SIX queen Jen Caldwell and Les Miserables star Samuel Wyn-Morris join Grand Opera House panto cast for Beauty And The Beast

Who’s who in Beauty And The Beast: from left, Phil Atkinson’s Hugo Pompidou, Jen Caldwell’s Belle, Dani Harmer’s Fairy Bon Bon, Leon Craig’s Polly la Plonk,  Samuel Wyn-Morris’s The Beast and Phil Reid’s Louis La Plonk

WHO will play the lead roles – the last to be announced – in the Grand Opera House pantomime, Beauty And The Beast, in York?

Producers UK Productions have confirmed that SIX The Musical star Jen Caldwell will be heading back to the Cumberland Street theatre after her fun-loving Yorkshire-voiced minx Anne Boleyn was head and shoulders the stand-out in Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’s pop concert musical in October 2022.

“I am so excited to be returning to York and the beautiful Grand Opera House after having a wonderful time there with SIX back in 2022,” says Jen. “I can’t wait to meet all the wonderful panto audiences and spread some festive joy.” 

Welsh actor Samuel Wyn-Morris, whose role as Enjolras in Les Miserables brought him to Leeds Grand Theatre in November 2022, will be The Beast in the December 7 to January 5 2025 run.

New addition: Jen Caldwell’s Belle in Beauty And The Beast

“I am thrilled to be returning to Beauty And The Beast and to pantoland this Christmas,” says Samuel, who starred in the Sunderland Empire’s version last winter. “To be in beautiful York over the festive period is exciting and I’m looking forward to it greatly.”

Caldwell and Wyn-Morris will be joining the previously announced Tracy Beaker star Dani Harmer’s Fairy Bon Bon, Phil Atkinson’s villainous Hugo Pompidou, Leon Craig’s dame, Polly la Plonk, comedian Phil Reid’s Louis la Plonk and David Alcock’s Clement, the villain’s sidekick.  

Martin Dodd, UK Productions’ managing director and producer, says: “We are absolutely delighted to welcome Samuel and Jen to the company of Beauty And The Beast. Both are amazing West End musical theatre talents and bring a wealth of experience to what we can promise will be the most musical, and magical, of all pantomimes.”

Heading for a beheading: Jen Caldwell’s Anne Boleyn in SIX The Musical, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York, in October 2022. Picture: Pamela Raith

What lies in store in the first pantomime since the final curtain for Dame Berwick Kaler’s three-year residency at the Grand Opera House? “This year’s panto brings a larger-than-life range of characters together with side-splitting comedy, stunning sets and costumes, and with an award-winning script by Jon Monie, this will be a magnificent must-see musical adventure,” says the publicity machine.

“With additional morning performances for schools and suitable for all ages, this is not to be missed, with tickets from just £15.”

Laura McMillan, the Grand Opera House theatre director, says: “From the West End to York, this year our pantomime is set to be like nothing seen before at the Grand Opera House. We can’t wait to welcome families and friends to join us for this festive spectacular and I know the talented cast will wow our audiences and create memories for years to come.” 

Tickets are on sale at

Jen Caldwell: the back story

Jen Caldwell

TRAINED at London School of Musical Theatre.

Credits include: Cover/resident director in Kathy & Stella Solve A Murder (West End); Emmeline Pankhurst in Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World (UK tour); Anne Boleyn in Six The Musical (UK, Ireland & Korea tour & West End); alternate Anne Boleyn & Katherine Howard in Six The Musical (UK & Ireland tour),

Swing/cover Heather/resident director in Green Day’s American Idiot (UK and Ireland tour); swing/cover Emily in Knights Of The Rose, (Arts Theatre); Flick in The Rhythm Method workshop, (The Bush Theatre and The Landor Space); Dyanne in Million Dollar Quartet (Indian tour); cover Dyanne/resident director/resident choreographer in Million Dollar Quartet (UK and Ireland tour); cover Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical (UK and Ireland tour) and cover Sophie and Ali in Mamma Mia! (Prince of Wales and Novello Theatres).

Samuel Wyn-Morris: the back story

Samuel Wyn-Morris in his role as The Beast

TRAINED at Guildford School of Acting.

Best known for his role as Enjolras in Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Miserables.

Theatre credits include: Beauty & The Beast (Sunderland Empire); Frederick Fleet in Titanic The Musical (China tour); Enjolras in Les Misérables (UK tour); Feuilly/Understudy Jean Valjean & Enjolras in Les Misérables (Sondheim Theatre); Feuilly/Understudy Enjolras in Les Misérables – The Staged Concert (Sondheim Theatre); Ensemble in Alan Ayckbourn’s The Divide (Old Vic Theatre).

Dani Harmer to wave fairy wand of change over Grand Opera House panto. Who’s joining her in Beauty And The Beast?

“I adore playing the loveable and slightly bonkers Fairy Bon Bon, so cannot wait to put on my wings once more,” says Grand Opera House-bound Dani Harmer

OUT with the old, in with the new, for the Grand Opera House pantomime in York, following the exit of Berwick Kaler and co after three years.

In come BAFTA award-winning Dani Harmer, Phil Reid, Leon Craig, Phil Atkinson and David Alock to star in Beauty And The Beast, UK Productions’ third panto at the Cumberland Street theatre, from December 7 to January 5. Further star-studded casting for Belle and the Beast will be announced shortly.

Best known for playing the title role in the CBBC series Tracey Beaker and its sequel Tracey Beaker Returns, from the age of 13, and later My Mum Tracey Beaker in 2021, Harmer will wave her wand as Fairy Bon Bon.

“I can’t think of a better place to be spending the Christmas period,” says Dani Harmer of her return to York

Bracknell-born Harmer, now 35, has appeared in numerous pantomimes and West End musical theatre shows, including playing the title role in York Barbican’s 2012 panto, Cinderella, when she had to miss two performances that clashed with her commitments competing in BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing that season.

In the “craziest fortnight of my life”, she had to combine rehearsing each morning at the Barbican and spending each afternoon and evening at the University of York, practising routines with partner Vincent Simone, first for the semi-final, then three for the final: a tango, jive and show dance (Bohemian Rhapsody). “It’s been the best thing I have ever done,” she said at the time.

Earlier that year at York Barbican too, she appeared as Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz, returning there in March 2015 for two performances as Beauty in the Easter pantomime Beauty And The Beast. In between, she played not-so-innocent Janet in The Rocky Horror Show at Leeds Grand Theatre in June 2013 

Dani Harmer in the role of Beauty in Beauty And The Beast at York Barbican in March 2015

Now she will star in Beauty And The Beast in York for a second time, switching from Beauty to Fairy Bon Bon. “I’m super excited to be back in my favourite panto of all time, Beauty And The Beast,” says Dani.

“For those that don’t know, I have always been completely obsessed with this story, so it is a real joy for me to be bringing it to life on stage. And I adore playing the loveable and slightly bonkers Fairy Bon Bon, so cannot wait to put on my wings once more.

“And even more exciting to be coming to the gorgeous city of York! I can’t think of a better place to be spending the Christmas period. So, bring on the Yorkshire puddings and I really hope you enjoy our magical beauty of a show.”

Phil Reid’s Louis la Plonk

Joining Dani will be award-winning comedian Phil Reid as Louis la Plonk and panto dame extraordinaire and musical theatre star Leon Craig as his larger-than-life mum, Polly la Plonk, after West End appearances in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Disney’s Aladdin.

Musical theatre star Phil Atkinson, from The Bodyguard, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Little Shop Of Horrors, will play the dastardly Hugo Pompidou, with David Alcock, from The Mousetrap and the BBC’s SAS: Rogue Heroes, as his assistant in villainy, Clement.

Producers UK Productions will be “pulling out all of the stops to bring their award-winning version of this timeless tale to York”. Managing director and producer Martin Dodd says: “We are delighted to be returning to the beautiful Grand Opera House and even more so that we can bring one of our favourite productions for the Christmas season.

Phil Atkinson’s dastardly Hugo Pompidou

“The show is filled with comedy, show-stopping tunes, a cast of top musical performers, magic and an award-winning script by Jon Monie [prize winner for Best Script in the 2019 Great British Pantomime Awards]. It’s a fantastic show for young and old and one that is sure to make your Christmas complete.”

Grand Opera House theatre director Laura McMillan says: “This year our Christmas is set to be a cross between a hilarious pantomime and a spectacular West End musical, really something for everyone.

“The audience are in for a festive treat, with a show packed full of award-winning talent and stars from the West End. There’s no doubt Beauty And The Beast will be a huge hit with something for all the family.”

Expect “larger-than-life characters, an unmissable transformation moment, slide-splitting comedy and stunning sets and costumes”, promises the panto press release.

Tickets are on sale at

Leon Craig’s dame, Polly la Plonk, in Beauty And The Beast

End of an era as Berwick Kaler hangs up his boots & wig after 47 years as York’s panto dame. “Bowing out gracefully,” he says

Ape japes: Berwick Kaler in his last pantomime, as Dame Dotty Dullally, in Robinson Crusoe And The Pirates Of The River Ouse at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

BERWICK Kaler, Britain’s longest-running pantomime dame, is “bowing out gracefully” after 47 years on the York stage.

The final curtain has fallen after Grand Opera House panto producers UK Productions decided not to retain the services of veteran dame Berwick, 77, who had transferred across the city in 2021 after 40 years at York Theatre Royal.

Exiting panto stage left too will be long-serving comic stooge Martin Barrass, vainglorious villain David Leonard, principal golden gal Suzy Cooper and “luverly Brummie” A J Powell after their three-year run at the Cumberland Street theatre.

In his quote at the very bottom of the Grand Opera House’s official announcement of Beauty And The Beast as the 2024-2025 pantomime, Berwick says: “After 47 years of getting away with complete nonsense, it’s time to bow out gracefully and I couldn’t have wished for a better production than Robinson Crusoe [And The Pirates Of The River Ouse].

“I’d like to thank all of the audiences over the years, and particularly those who came to the Grand Opera House this year for making it so memorable. I’d also like to thank the producers UK Productions for their support, and for bringing to life my frankly mad ideas so spectacularly.

The last gang show: Berwick Kaler, second from right, with David Leonard, Martin Barrass, Suzy Cooper and A J Powell, promoting Robinson Crusoe And The Pirates Of The River Ouse on King’s Staith

“Last and of course not least, my loyal gang, David, Suzy, Martin and AJ, for putting up with me for so many years.”

The official statement reads: “Also announced today is the departure of Berwick Kaler from the Grand Opera House pantomime.

“Berwick has been a beloved Dame in York since 1977 and it has been a privilege for the Grand Opera House to host Berwick and the gang for the last three years. Martin Barrass, Suzy Cooper, AJ Powell and David Leonard will also not be returning.”

UK Productions took over the Grand Opera House pantomime after only one year of Berwick and co performing for Qdos Entertainment/Crossroads Live in his comeback show Dick Turpin Rides Again.

Managing director Martin Dodd, always an enthusiastic advocate for Berwick Kaler’s pantomimes, nevertheless makes no mention of the parting of the ways in the Grand Opera House announcement.

Instead, he looks to the future, as the pantomime partnership with the York theatre is retained but in a new form with “star casting”. “We are delighted to continue our relationship with the Grand Opera House and bring one of the most popular fairy tales of all time, our award-winning Beauty And The Beast, to audiences in York,” he says.

“The production is spectacular and contains all the elements that young and old will love, and we look forward to announcing the star casting very soon.”

Likewise, Grand Opera House theatre director Laura McMillan, focuses on the new era: “The annual pantomime is the biggest show in the theatre’s calendar and to be welcoming Beauty And The Beast to our stage is incredibly exciting.

“There’s nothing like pantomime to introduce children and young people to Theatre and I have no doubt that Belle, The Beast and the rest of the characters will bring so much joy this winter.”

Beauty And The Beast will run from December 7 2024 to January 5 2025. Tickets, from £15, will go on sale on Monday, March 11 at 4pm  at

Full story to follow.

Grand Opera House and refurbed Ate O’Clock bond in meal and show partnership

La Bamba! stars Pasha Kovalev and Siva Kaneswaran with Ate O’Clock restaurant manager Emily Crampton, left, and Grand Opera House theatre director Laura McMillan celebrate the new partnership. La Bamba! played the Grand Opera House last week, moving on to the Grand Theatre, Blackpool, from tomorrow to Saturday

THE Grand Opera House and Ate O’clock are joining forces to “bring York’s theatregoers an entertaining night out”.

This new partnership combines the pre-show meal setting of the High Ousegate restaurant and bistro for food and drinks with a show afterwards at the Cumberland Street theatre.

Offers will be shared directly with Grand Opera House theatregoers, who are advised to keep their eyes peeled for the theatre’s pre-show emails and newsletters, sharing Ate O’Clock money-saving offers in the coming months.

Twelve months on since its refurbishment, Ate O’Clock has expanded its offering with new dishes on its a la carte and set menus, including steaks, burgers, and traditional dishes, all locally sourced. Cocktails are served up in Ate O’Clock’s new Social8 Lounge.

Emily Crampton, left, Laura McMillan, Siva Kaneswaran and Pasha Kovalev at Ate O’Clock

Laura McMillan, Grand Opera House theatre director, says: “We want to deliver memorable experiences for our guests, and by working with Ate O’Clock we are able to combine the best food in York with the best live entertainment in the city.”

Emily Crampton, Ate O’Clock and Social8 Lounge restaurant manager, says: “As theatre lovers ourselves, and given that we are only a stone’s throw away, partnering with the Grand Opera House is a great opportunity and one that we are so excited about.

“We cannot wait to do our bit in creating a fun and memorable evening out for all theatregoers, whether that be a pre-theatre meal or post-theatre drinks.” 

Laura adds: “Whether you’re planning festive celebrations, a catch-up with your friends or a night out with your partner, we have you covered, giving you the chance to enjoy great food and fantastic shows. We have a packed programme of shows that you can attend after your exquisite pre-theatre dinner from Calendar Girls to Pretty Woman.”

For the latest Grand Opera House updates, visit For the latest Ate O’ Clock updates,

After theatre, opera, dance, comedy, musicals and gigs, weddings take to the Grand Opera House stage from August

Walk-on part in the wedding drama at the Grand Opera House, York. All pictures: Joe Strange

IT’S official! The stage is set for weddings at the Grand Opera House, York’s new home to your match of the day.

The Cumberland Street theatre has received its licence to hold wedding ceremonies, creating a dramatic setting for couples to tie the knot.

“York is a popular destination for weddings and the team at the Grand Opera House are excited to be opening the building for couples to wed for the first time in recorded history,” says theatre director Laura McMillan of a theatre that opened in 1868.

 The Grade 2 listed building can accommodate wedding ceremonies for two to 200 people. Packages include the use of the stage for the wedding, access to dressing rooms for important pre-ceremony touch-ups, drinks in the refurbished bars and exclusive use of the newly launched Ambassador Theatre Lounge.

The bride’s eye view from a box at the Grand Opera House

Couples then will have the option to have their reception and wedding breakfast at “one of the many extraordinary venues across York”.

Laura says: “We are thrilled to provide couples with the opportunity to wed in the iconic surroundings of the Grand Opera House. Our stage has hosted stars from Gary Barlow to Vivien Leigh and is a truly dramatic place to get married.”

Dates are available from August this year and any interested couples are encouraged to contact for more information and to arrange a site visit.

The Wedding Guide can be viewed online at:

Wedding belle taking centre stage at the Grand Opera House

Laura McMillan MBE heads from Coventry City of Culture to theatre director’s role at refurbished Grand Opera House in York

Laura McMillan: New theatre director at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: David Harrison

LAURA McMillan is the new theatre director of the Grand Opera House, York, taking over from the short-lived appointment of JJ Almond.

She is relocating from Coventry, where she was director of audience strategy at Coventry City Culture Trust, the charity responsible for the delivery of Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture 2021. 

Laura aims to “ensure the Grand Opera House is rooted in the wider city of York and is seen as a welcoming place where locals and visitors can spend quality time”. Her ambitious programming, following this summer and autumn’s refurbishment of the Cumberland Street building, will “continue to bring world-class, high-quality shows to the heart of York”, including music, comedy, theatre and dance.  

Laura also wants to build on the Grand Opera House legacy of providing a stage for the very best of York talent. 

“Our new creative learning producer, Kelly Culver, will help us open up behind the scenes at the theatre more than ever before,” she says. “We will also work with local schools and colleges to provide incredible experiences and introduce them to the world of working in a theatre.”

Laura McMillan’s ambitious programming at the Grand Opera House will “continue to bring world-class, high-quality shows to the heart of York”. Picture: David Harrison

Laura adds: “The theatre’s new Ambassador Theatre Lounge will help us provide that next level of VIP exclusive experiences for our audiences joining us to celebrate a special occasion, or just treating themselves.

“In the short term, I’m so excited to welcome Berwick Kaler back for a season of hilarious family fun [in the pantomime The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose from December 10 to January 8 2023].”  

In Coventry, Laura was the first employee of the Coventry City of Culture Trust in October 2015, becoming responsible for overseeing all aspects of the bidding process, including the coordination of writing the bids, managing multiple stakeholders across the region and presenting to the judges. 

In her last role at the trust, Laura was in charge of the marketing, communications, ticketing, digital content and monitoring and evaluation departments and was part of the senior management team.

She oversaw the trust’s audience development and tourism strategies and was a member of the West Midlands Combined Authority Regional Tourism Board and Destination Management Organisation Board. 

In The Queen’s Birthday Honours 2022, Laura was awarded an MBE for services to culture and the community in Coventry. Before joining the trust, she had worked in the sales and marketing department of Warwick Castle, then moved to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s marketing department for four years in Stratford-upon-Avon.