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 Leonard 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 atgtickets.com/york.

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 www.atgtickets.com/york. For the latest Ate O’ Clock updates, www.ateoclock.co.uk.

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 yorkweddings@theambassadors.com for more information and to arrange a site visit.

The Wedding Guide can be viewed online at: https://issuu.com/akauk/docs/wedding_brochure_-_grand_opera_house_york_-_pages?fr=sNjQzMzE1NDE0

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.