DAME Berwick Kaler, David Leonard, Martin Barrass, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell are into the final week of their second pantomime at the Grand Opera House, York.
The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose ends on Sunday in Berwick’s first variation on a Mother Goose theme since his Millennium pantomime, Old Mother Millie, at York Theatre Royal.
“That one gave me a panic attack,” he admitted. “There was no story, and it wasn’t based on a fairytale. To my surprise, we ended up being the only theatre doing a millennium-based panto!”
No such palpitations this time: Berwick completed his script by 6am on December 1, giving the writer, director and dowager dame plenty of rehearsal time to hone it with his regular team.
“It will either work or it won’t, but I still feel as fit as a fiddle, though I can’t jump through any more windows, but we make sure routines are properly done,” he said that day.
“I’m ageing up for the part,” joked Berwick, 76, as the Old Mother turned into the Old Granny. “I just think we can have a lot of fun with the audience about getting older. They know my age, Martin and Suzy’s age, playing my son and daughter, so each year I make them younger,” he says.
Surrounded by familiar faces, Berwick does have one new factor this year: the role of UK Productions as the Grand Opera House panto producers for the first time. “They’re the second largest panto company in the country, and they do know the history of our pantomime,” he says.
No Covid restrictions, no masks, means Berwick can revel in interaction with the audience once more. “Last year, we could only hear the laughter, not see the smiles,” he said. “But this year, I can go down the steps from the stage, get out to the audience, and I’m only interested in doing the show if I can still do that because there has to be ad-libbing.”
The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose runs at Grand Opera House, York, until Sunday. Performances: 2pm and 7pm, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 1pm and 7pm, Sunday. Box office: atgtickets.com/York
SLEIGHS and that Slade song, pantomime mayhem and New Year parties signify the changing of the diary for Charles Hutchinson, with one eye on 2023.
Merry Xmas Everybody: Slade UK, Victoria Vaults, Nunnery Lane, York, Christmas Eve, 7pm
SO here it is, Merry Xmas, everybody’s having fun as Slade UK, tribute act to the Wolverhampton wonders, roll out that 1973 festive chart topper and a whole heap of misspelt Slade smashes, from Gudbuy T’ Jane to Cum On Feel The Noise, Coz I Luv You to Mama Weer All Crazee Now.
“We’re really looking forward to having Slade UK at the Vaults,” says owner/manager Chris White. “It’s going to be a great evening and a lot of fun.” DJ Garry Hornby will be on the decks. Box office: theyorkvaults.com.
Still time for pantomime, part one: The All New Adventures Of Peter Pan, York Theatre Theatre Royal, until January 2 2023
CBEEBIES’ science ace Maddie Moate and three stars of last year’s Cinderella – Faye Campbell, Paul Hawkyard and Robin Simpson – head to Neverland in York Theatre Royal’s third collaboration with Evolution Productions.
Moate plays naughty fairy Tinkerbell, Campbell, plucky Elizabeth Sweet, Hawkyard, histrionic Captain Hook and Simpson, dame Mrs Smee, joined by Jason Battersby’s Peter Pan and Jonny Weldon’s madcap pirate Starkey in creative director Juliet Forster’s production, scripted by Evolution’s pun-loving Paul Hendy. Look out for acrobats Mohammed Iddi, Karina Ngade and Mbaraka Omari too. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Still time for pantomime, part two: The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose, Grand Opera House, York, until January 8 2023
PETER Pan is not alone in flying across a York pantomime stage this winter. Dowager Dame Berwick Kaler does likewise at 76 in his second season at his adopted home, presented with the Grand Opera House’s new partners in panto, UK Productions.
Joining his ad-libbing granny, Mrs Plum-Duff, are sidekick Martin Barrass’s Jessie, villain David Leonard’s Lucifer Nauseus, principal gal Suzy Cooper’s Cissie, AJ Powell’s Brum Stoker and ever-game dancer Jake Lindsay’s Jakey Lad. Look out for Boris Johnson’s cameo as a dummy, me babbies, me bairns. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.
Viennese waltzing into 2023: International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival’s New Year Gala Concert, Harrogate Royal Hall, January 7 2023, 7.30pm
CELEBRATE the dawning of the New Year in the company of the National Festival Orchestra on a whirlwind tour of bygone opulence, taking in the cafés of Vienna, the bars of Paris and the drawing rooms of London.
Enjoy waltzes, ballads and Gilbert and Sullivan favourites in a gala concert conducted by Christopher Milton and featuring international opera stars. Box office: gsfestivals-tickets.gsfestivals.org.
New Year on a different calendar: The Ukrainians: Malanka, The Crescent, York, January 14 2023, 7.30pm
ON the eastern calendar, New Year falls on January 13 and is marked in Ukraine with a variety of festivities known as Malanka.
The Ukrainians have been playing their brand of Ukrainian music for three decades on folk and roots stages, clocking up eight albums and 1,000 gigs. High-energy party songs and a few surprises are promised. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.
Exhibition on the horizon: Lost and Found, East Riding paintings by John David Petty, Kentmere House Gallery, Scarcroft Hill, York, February 3 to April 2 2023
WHERE does Kentmere House Gallery owner Ann Petherick find her artists, she is often asked. “The best ones always have to be searched out, and I think I first found John David Petty in Beverley Minster, showing a collection of wonderful paintings of doors and windows of Holderness churches,” she says.
Petty is more often to be spotted outdoors, among the flatlands of the East Riding, where this former graphic artist relishes the solitude and wide landscapes.
Favouring oils, acrylics and charcoal, his church work uses the same techniques of deeply etched lines, with the addition of paper collage to capture the texture of ancient stonework. For opening hours, go to: kentmerehouse.co.uk.
What’s Matt doing next after Strictly? The Matt Goss Experience, with the MG Big Band and Royal Philharmonic, York Barbican, March 4 2023, 8pm
STRICTLY Come Dancing 2022 contestant and former Bros frontman Matt Goss, 54, performs his biggest hits, new original material and a tribute to songwriter Cole Porter in an evening of swing, glitz and swagger.
Having headlined Las Vegas for 11 years, Goss is back doing what he loves, singing with a big band and a philharmonic orchestra. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Repeat offender…or not?! Jimmy Carr, Terribly Funny 2.0, York Barbican, September 12 2023
AFTER completing a hattrick of York performances on his Terribly Funny tour – November 4 and 9 2021 and April 15 this year – provocative comedian and television panel show host Jimmy Carr is to return to the city on his Terribly Funny 2.0 itinerary.
Carr, 50, says his show “contains jokes about all kinds of terrible things. Terrible things that might have affected you or people you know and love. But they’re just jokes – they are not the terrible things”. New material is promised. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk or ticketmaster.co.uk.
THIS is as much The Misadventures Of Old Granny Goose as The Adventures of the aforesaid ageing old bird.
Berwick Kaler and his ex-York Theatre Royal gang are back together, re-grouping like The Rolling Stones or the Friends cronies to recall the old hits – Berwick and a dummy, Berwick flying (twice), Berwick and a pool with powers that take years off his dame and, above all, Berwick going off-piste, off script – for the faithful.
Those moments, at liberty to ad-lib, are the ‘misadventures’, the ones that most delight, Berwick wandering off to the stage apron to take in the audience with mischief in his eyes, Berwick apologetically and rough-handedly correcting his misplaced stage spot, Berwick making a political jibe, Berwick winding up his fellow regulars and teasing his ensemble newbies.
What’s fresh this year? The Grand Opera House, the comeback dame’s adopted panto home for a second year, has undergone a refurbishment, new seating et al; the panto has new producers, UK Productions, overseeing costumes (an upgrade on last year), set design (standard panto scenery, smart, proficient, no York detailing) and lighting (hi-tech with a dash of pop-concert glitz).
What else? Lovely fairy lights adorning the proscenium arch; a welcome revamp of the stock ghost scene with beds disappearing and reappearing and a host of ghosts; puppy-keen Jake Lindsay’s upgrade to a more prominent role as Jakey Lad, still the butt of Berwick’s putdowns after a decade in the ranks.
And what’s more? The three lads in the dance ensemble (Spencer Hardy, Elliot OJ Hutchinson and dance captain Samuel Lithco) aping Matthew Bourne’s all-male chorus in a brief burst of Swan Lake, plus ensemble debuts for Leeds-trained Lucy Churchill and Niamh Hendron, and a new intake of children from York Stage School for babbies’ sweetness in ensemble scenes.
What’s old this year? The Grand Dame, of course, sending himself/herself up at 76, aware that unlike his character, Mrs Plum Duff, the Granny Goose of the title, he cannot turn back panto-time by taking a magical pool dip.
Instead, the drama-queen dame mock-collapses at the end of big number Barmy Girl in mock-exhaustion, play acting as he demands to be helped up. He adamantly says he can’t deliver his lines any faster when urged to do so and deliberately turns his balletic flight landing into an inelegant tumble.
What’s the (lack of!) plot this year? Well, no, Berwick hasn’t lost the plot, but it’s brief. Or, correction, devilish David Leonard’s dandy villain, the goose-fearing Lucifer Nauseus, says it is. He has to find a fairy. That’s it. The plot.
Well, like on an allotment, there’s plot aplenty, or at least by writer-director Berwick’s infamous plot-resistant standards, there is. But yes, in essence, the villain must find a fairy to do his evil bidding for him. Oh, and the dame has to be under the misconception that the Goose is a dog.
What ticks over this year? Kirsty Sparks’s choreography; Rob Thorne’s band, and especially Berwick’s double act with comic fall guy Martin Barrass (dippy son Jessie Plum Duff), partner in the ghost scene, The Lambton Worm song sheet, and rocking-chair ventriloquism routine with Boris Johnson as the dummy.
That Tory old boy scene defines the dip in madcap mayhem since peak Kaler years, being laboured (not Laboured, unlike this pun), where it needs to make more of Johnson’s blustering vocal schtick and boot him with sharper barbs about his mendacious character.
What works best this year? No surprises. Leonard’s fab-u-lous vainglorious villainy, with his devil’s swishing tail that turns into a phone, his stage-vamping swagger, that Shakespearean lead thespian voice and his comic timing. Everything done with aplomb amid the Plum Duffs.
His rendition of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day with first Suzy Cooper, then AJ Powell, is the show’s comic high point, anything but a perfect day, but witty and physically funny too.
What about Cooper and Powell this year? On good form, principal gal Suzy doubling up as both a classic Fairy and plummy Cissy Plum Duff, who is all doe-eyed over Powell’s would-be novelist, Brum Stoker (the pick of Kaler’s cast names for 2022).
What’s missing this year? The film; the water splosh scene; old-school physical slapstick; topical references (save for yesterday’s men, Johnson and Matt Hancock), and an animal costume for Barrass.
What replaces them? The jousting banter between the familiar players; the greater emphasis on song and dance (Leonard going from one song immediately into another); the comforting constant sense of nostalgia for Dame Berwick devotees.
The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose does not lay a golden egg of cracking comedy but is more of a curate’s egg, sunny side up at times, flat as a pancake on occasion. There is more than enough for the loyal legions, not enough for new converts.
“We’ve never, ever taken you for granted,” said Dame Berwick at the finale, both grateful and hopeful of a return. After all, this Kaler – and his goose – on the loose is not the oldest dame in town this Christmas.
A certain Sir Ian McKellen’s Caroline Goose, aged 83, is in residence in Mother Goose at the Duke of York’s, London, from tonight (15/12/2022) until January 29, then on tour until April 1.
GRAND dame Berwick Kaler will step on a York stage on Wednesday for the first time since Covid ruled him out of the last week of his comeback show, Dick Turpin Rides Again, last December.
Last winter had marked his crosstown transfer to the Grand Opera House after four decades at York Theatre Royal, bringing his trusty cohorts, vainglorious villain David Leonard, spring-heeled comic stooge Martin Barrass, golden principal gal Suzy Cooper and “luverly Brummie” AJ Powell, along for the ride.
Roll on a year, and all the team are back once more after protracted contract negotiations for 49 performances of The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose, Dame Berwick’s 42nd York panto.
Some things have not changed: at 76, and five years on from his double heart bypass operation and having his pacemaker fitted – or “Gerry” as he calls it – Dame Berwick is still directing the show, as well as performing the dame’s role, Mrs Plum-Duff this year.
He completed writing the script at 6am last Thursday, as close to the “deadline” as ever for rehearsals at a new location for 2022, Theatre@41, Monkgate.
“I have to say the management has been as good as gold,” says Dame Berwick. “I’ve ended up by concentrating on what I consider good old-fashioned pantomime values, so I’ve put the emphasis on the verbal exchanges.”
Other things have changed, however. Last year’s partners in the Grand Opera House pantomime, Qdos Entertainment/Crossroads Live, have made way after only a year for UK Productions, whose musical theatre shows and pantomime play across Britain and Ireland, London’s West End, mainland Europe, Turkey, Malta, Malaysia and New Zealand.
Berwick, meanwhile, has suffered the loss of his partner, David Norton, after 40 years together. “It’s the loneliness. Suddenly you’re alone,” he says of the grief he has experienced. “We couldn’t have got this show on if I didn’t have the team around me. There’s no way I could have done it otherwise.
“I’ve lost a way of life,” he reflects. “I have to do everything now. There are two dogs [spaniels, should you be wondering]; they’d go out two or three times a day with David, so they were always looked after during my pantomime commitments.
“Now I’ve had to bring my sister and her husband up from Ilkley to look after them, let them out, during Old Granny Goose, and they’re in their 80s.”
Berwick’s weight has dropped to nine and a half stone, his face and legs thinner at 76. “I’d always been around 11 stone. That was my fighting weight for pantomime,” he says. “I can’t afford to lose any more.”
He once said he lost as much two stone during those long, long pantomime runs at York Theatre Royal, an endurance test of heavy costumes and even heavier workloads when three performances a day were not uncommon over weekends and the festive holidays in bygone days.
The fighting spirit still burns inside, coupled with the need to entertain, to savour the roar of the crowd. “If I can get through this year, then I can get through anything in life,” says Berwick.
He may have vowed to retire at 70 or after 40 years of pantomimes, settling for the second route out, but he quickly regretted that decision. “I still think I can give people a laugh, and I think this show will be a laugh,” he says.
“I’ve always worked, and anything I’ve got, I’ve always worked for. I’ve just worked and worked from the age of 15 [when he headed from Sunderland to London to be a painter and decorator]. I still need that fix of performing every year – and I’m feeling fit.”
As for the content of The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose, Dame Berwick says: “I hope you think the humour is all natural. I take the mick out of myself about my age, like when I do this Barbie Girl number – I’m calling it ‘Barmy Girl’ – where I collapse at the end.
“The good thing is that we can all take the mick out of each other on stage after all these years, and audiences love that.
“But there’ll be no mention of Covid or the hardships that people have had to go through. They don’t want that right now.
“Mind you, it’s so difficult, especially now in these woke times, when I’ll write something that I don’t think will offend anyone, but then someone says, ‘you can’t say that’. Though I’m all for woke progress, it’s suffocating comedy.”
Slapstick will still play its part. “I can do some lovely slapstick, like a decorating scene, making Martin do all the physical stuff!” says Dame Berwick. “But I can’t throw buckets of water. That’s just not practical anymore. When you ‘move house’ [to the Grand Opera House], you have to adjust.
“But I’ve still got sections in the script where I’ll go down the steps to the stalls to banter with the audience. That was something we really missed under Covid restrictions.”
Dame Berwick wants to continue tapping into the inner child, the one devoid of a sense of embarrassment when throwing off the shackles of English reserve in pantoland. “That’s why there’ll be no retirement. I’ve had one very big retirement and that’s it,” he says. The boots with one yellow lace, one red, are not ready for hanging up.
Berwick Kaler in The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose, Grand Opera House, York, December 10 to January 8 2023. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/york.
KALER on the loose, Christmas music, art and crafts and a stellar trio on the horizon have Charles Hutchinson hopping between diaries
Berwick’s back: The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose, Grand Opera House, York, December 10 to January 8
THE script is complete, as of 6am on Thursday morning, for writer, director and perennial York dame Berwick Kaler’s second year at his adopted panto home, presented in tandem with the Grand Opera House’s new partners in pantomime, UK Productions.
At 76, expect a greater emphasis on the verbal jousting from Dame Berwick, but still with slapstick aplenty in the familiar company of sidekick Martin Barrass, villain David Leonard, principal gal Suzy Cooper, luverly Brummie AJ Powell and ever-game dancer Jake Lindsay in his tenth Kaler panto, me babbies, me bairns. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.
Exhibition launch of the week: The Christmas Collection at Pyramid Gallery, Stonegate, York, today until January 12, open daily
YORK ceramicist Ben Arnup opens The Christmas Collection, the last exhibition of Pyramid Gallery’s 40th anniversary celebrations, at midday today. He will be exhibiting 12 new trompe l’oeil ceramic sculptures too.
Gallery curator Terry Brett has invited London printmaker Anita Kelin to fill the walls with 15 large linocut original prints and two paintings in her 28th year of showing her depictions of family life at Pyramid. Exhibiting too will be printmaker Mychael Barratt, sculptors Christine Pike and Jennie McCall, ceramicist Katie Braida and glassmakers Rachel Elliott, Alison Vincent, Keith Cummings and David Reekie, plus 50 jewellery makers.
Return to York of the week: Craft Your Christmas with Sara Davies, York Barbican, tonight, 7.30pm
DRAGONS’ Den entrepreneur Sara Davies, who founded her Crafter’s Companion company in 2005 while studying at the University of York, offers practical demonstrations, creative ideas and a healthy slice of down-to-earth know-how.
Taking you from gifts to garlands, cards to crackers, via a peek into the Den and a sprinkling of Strictly Come Dancing sparkle, Sara will help you to create your own unique handmade Christmas. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Christmas concert of the week: The Ebor Singers, A Christmas Celebration By Candlelight, St Lawrence Parish Church, Lawrence Street, York, tonight, 7.30pm
PAUL Gameson directs The Ebor Singers in an evening of beautiful choral arrangements for Christmastide that also marks the launch of the York choir’s CD recording of Christmas music by contemporary American composers, Wishes And Candles.
Pieces from the disc, featuring works by Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre, Dan Forrest, Abbie Bettinis and Matthew Culloton, will be complemented by festive compositions by John Rutter and Bob Chilcott. Expect audience participation in carol singing too. Tickets: eventbrite.co.uk and on the door.
Festive musical duo of the week: Aled Jones and Russell Watson, Christmas With Aled & Russell York Barbican, Tuesday, 8pm
ALED Jones and Russell Watson are reuniting for Christmas 2022, combining a new album and tour. Performing together again after a three-year hiatus, the classical singers will be promoting their November 4 release of Christmas With Aled And Russell.
The album features new recordings of traditional carols such as O Holy Night, O Little Town Of Bethlehem and In The Bleak Midwinter, alongside festive favourites White Christmas, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, Little Drummer Boy and Mistletoe And Wine, complemented by a duet rendition of Walking In The Air. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk
Nativity play of the week: York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust in A Nativity for York, Spurriergate Centre, Spurriergate, York, Thursday, Friday, 7.30pm; Saturday, Sunday, 3pm, 5pm and 7.30pm
A NATIVITY for York returns to the Spurriergate Centre following a two-year enforced break, staged by York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust (YMPST). After directing the Last Judgement plays on the city streets in 2018 and 2022, Alan Heaven has created a fresh, vibrant and magical retelling of the Nativity, combining “music, dance, sorrows and joys and some audience participation”.
Heaven’s company of actors, dancers and musicians is drawn from a wide range of community volunteers, in keeping with the YMPST productions of A Nativity for York in 2019 and A Resurrection for York in 2021. Tickets: 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.
Festival of the week: York Early Music Christmas Festival, mainly at NCEM, Walmgate, December 8 to 16; online box set, December 19 to January 31
MUSIC, minstrels, merriment, mulled wine and mince pies combine in York Early Music Christmas Festival 2022, to be complemented by an online box set of festival highlights post-festival.
Taking part will be La Palatine (Fiesta Galante); Ensemble Augelletti (Pick A Card!); Solomon’s Knot (Johann Kuhnau’s Christmas Cantatas); Spiritato and The Marion Consort (Inspiring Bach); Ensemble Moliere (Good Soup); Bojan Čičić (Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas); The Orlando Consort (Adieu) and Yorkshire Bach Choir & Yorkshire Baroque Soloists (Handel’s Brockes Passion). Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.
Homecoming of the week: Sam Hird and Tom Bennett, A Winter Night’s Recital, All Saints’ Church, North Street, York, Friday, 7pm to 9pm
YORK baritone Sam Hird and his fellow Royal College of Music graduate, guitarist Tom Bennett, perfrom classical songs from around the world, by Schubert, Faure and Britten, complemented by festive favourites such as Adeste Fideles, O Holy Night and A Cradle In Bethlehem to stir the Christmas spirit.
The 15th century All Saints’ Church will be the “perfect backdrop” to this candlelit concert, Hird’s professional solo debut. A glass of mulled wine and a mince pie is included in the ticket price of £10 plus booking fee, available from samhirdmusic.co.uk and on the door.
Big jumpers, big songs: Alistair Griffin presents The Big Christmas Concert, St Michael le Belfrey Church, York, December 9, 10 and 17, 8pm; doors, 7.30pm
BILLED as “the biggest Christmas concert in York”, singer-songwriter Alistair Griffin’s winter warmer returns with classic Christmas tunes, carols and bags of festive cheer, heralded by a brass band.
The Big Christmas Concert takes a festive musical journey from acoustic versions of traditional carols to Wizzard, Slade and The Pogues, as audiences sing along and sip mulled wine while enjoying the fairytale of old York. Christmas jumpers and Christmas attire are encouraged; a prize will be given for the best costume. Box office: www.alistairgriffin.com.
Booking ahead: Blondie, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, June 22 2023
LOWER East Side New York trailblazers Blondie are off to the East Coast next summer to play Britain’s largest outdoor concert arena.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame icons will be led as ever by pioneering frontwoman/songwriter Debbie Harry, 77, guitarist/conceptual mastermind Chris Stein and powerhouse drummer Clem Burke, joined by former Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, guitarist Tommy Kessler and keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen.
Blondie join Sting, Pulp, rock supergroup Hollywood Vampires, N-Dubz, Olly Murs and Mamma Mia! among Scarborough OAT’s 2023 headliners, with plenty more to be added. Box office: scarboroughopenairtheatre.com.
Booking ahead too: The Waterboys, York Barbican, October 12 2023, 7.30pm
GREAT, Scott will be back for yet another evening with The Waterboys at York Barbican, this time to mark the Scottish-founded folk, rock, soul and blues band’s 40th anniversary.
Mike Scott, 63, has made a habit of playing the Barbican, laying on the “Big Music” in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018 and October 2021, since when The Waterboys have released 15th studio album All Souls Hill in May. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
A brush with an artist: Grayson Perry: A Show All About You, Harrogate Convention Centre, October 1 2023, 7.30pm
ARTIST, iconoclast and TV presenter Grayson Perry follows up A Show For Normal People with A Show All About You, wherein he asks, “What makes you, you?”. Is there a part deep inside that no-one understands? Have you found your tribe or are you a unique human being? Or is it more complicated than that?
Perry, “white, male, heterosexual, able bodied, English, southerner, baby boomer and member of the establishment”, takes a mischievous look at the nature of identity, promising to make you laugh, shudder, and reassess who you really are. Box office: 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.
Also recommended but sold out: The Cure, The Lost World Tour 2022, Leeds First Direct Arena, Tuesday, doors, 6pm
ROBERT Smith’s ever-changing band play Leeds for the first time since September 21 1985 at the whatever-happened-to-the Queens Hall. Expect a long, long set of all the heavenly, hippy pop hits, the gloomier goth stalwarts and more than a glimpse of the long-promised 14th studio album, Songs Of A Lost World, pencilled in for 2023.
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 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.
THEY’LL be back. All of them. Not only Dame Berwick Kaler, dastardly David Leonard and luvverly Brummie AJ Powell, but comic stooge Martin Barrass and principal gal Suzy Cooper too in The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose.
The Famous In York Five will resume pantomime business after all at the Grand Opera House after the initial pantomime ticket-launch press release left out Martin and Suzy, saying only that “further casting will be announced soon.”
“I was just finalising my contract through my agent,” clarified Martin after Wednesday’s meet-and-greet with the loyal queue that had begun forming at 3.40am outside the Cumberland Street theatre’s box office. “It was the same with Suzy, who doesn’t use an agent and does her own negotiations.”
Neither Suzy, nor AJ, was present on Wednesday but Dame Berwick, Martin and David pressed the flesh, then met the press to discuss their second year at the Opera House after their crosstown move from York Theatre Royal.
“I’m so glad Suzy will be back because I think she’s going to give us a run for our money as she’ll be playing two parts,” said Berwick.
“I gave you that idea,” interjected David. “She’s the fairy but she’s also my daughter and I don’t know she’s a fairy,” Berwick ploughed on. “Yes, that was my idea,” insisted David.
After last winter’s Dick Turpin Rides Again was produced by Crossroads Pantomimes [“the world’s biggest pantomime producer”], the Opera House panto has switched to new producers, UK Productions [“one of the country’s leading producers of musical theatre and pantomime, both nationally and internationally”].
“They’re a very good company, good on costumes and design, and they have The Kite Runner opening on Broadway,” said David.
“They’re a nice company, like a family,” said Berwick. “They were full of praise for the work we’ve done in pantomime, and I say ‘we’ because I had one discussion with Martin [producer Martin Dodd], where he thought he could easily find a replacement for one cast member…
“Martin!” interjected David. Berwick’s tongue had been in his cheek until this point, but he turned more serious to emphasise: “They’d come to York, and l’d said to them, ‘you can’t put a price on that rapport and how we’re just ordinary actors who’ve built up a reputation, and you can’t put a price on the way we work together. It’s taken us years’.
“I think the audience wouldn’t accept not having us in the show, and these Grand Opera House shows wouldn’t have happened without us all being in them.”
Berwick misses having a trapdoor for its potential comic mayhem, but describes the Opera House as “a great theatre for pantomime”. “It’s a joy to play here,” said David. “I love the vista of the seating,” said Martin. “That massive sweep of stalls, dress circle and grand circle. It’s like the West End theatre of York, and there are no bad seats.”
Covid restrictions prevented Kaler and co going walkabout in Dick Turpin Rides Again. “We couldn’t go down the steps for Covid-safety reasons,” said Berwck. “But hopefully that will be different this year.”
“The band had to be under the stage last time so that we weren’t spitting on them, but all being well they’ll be back in view in the pit.”
Berwick will be in triple threat mode once more at the age of 76 [his birthday falls on October 31], writing and directing the show as well as playing the venerable dame. Already he is bouncing script ideas off David and Martin and, as for the directorial role, he said: “I don’t have to do that much with this lot, so I can concentrate on the chorus and anyone new, if we have a ‘guest’ join us.
“They’re all family in the ensemble and they all want to come back. They had a good time with Dick Turpin Rides Again and they want another good time.”
Last winter’s pantomime played to audiences advised to wear masks. “You stopped thinking about it because you got used to it, and it didn’t affect the laughter,” said Berwick.
“I decided not to mention Covid because what would have been the point? There’s nothing funny about it.
But what I will do is never get away from being edgy in what I say on stage, though I will never insult anyone’.” Martin and David act out their mock surprise at this comment, but maybe ‘jests’ is a better word than ‘insults’ for Kaler’s adlibs and asides.
“You’ve never taken the easy line of picking on someone in the audience for what they’re wearing,” noted David.
“We’ve always taken the mick out of ourselves instead,” said Berwick. “But no in-jokes; there’s no place for those.”
Kaler and co last staged Mother Goose in 2014-2015 at York Theatre Royal under the title of Old Mother Goose. “I want it to be different. I don’t want it to be Old Mother Goose again,” said Berwick.
“Or even Mama Goose?” said David. “It’ll be The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose,” said Berwick. “The parents can tell their bairns, ‘yes, there will be a goose in it’. ‘Yes, there’ll be an old Mother Goose in it’. ‘Yes, there’ll be a goose egg in it’, but after that, leave me alone to come up with ideas.”
Whereupon Berwick, Martin and David started to recall their past encounters with Mother Goose, like the one with the motorised duck with a life of its own and…
“I remember in the first Mother Goose, we had an 8ft goose that we had to hide from the audience,” recalled Martin. “So, we put a pair of dog’s ears on it!”
The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose will run at Grand Opera House, York, from December 10 2022 to January 8 2023. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York
YORK pantomime star Martin Barrass WILL be in this winter’s Grand Opera House show, he says.
Dame Berwick Kaler’s perennial comic sidekick has posted a reassuring message on social media after his name was missing from those confirmed for The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose’s run from December 10 2022 to January 8 2023.
The familiar team of dowager dame Kaler, dastardly villain David Leonard and “luvverly Brummie” AJ Powell have been signed up by the Ambassador Theatre Group theatre’s new pantomime producer, UK Productions, but yesterday’s press release made no reference to either Barrass or principal golden gal Suzy Cooper. “Further casting will be announced soon,” the announcement concluded.
This prompted spring-heeled Barrass to bounce back on social media: “I’m definitely doing it! Worry not! I think there was a blip in the publicity dept methinks. Either that or they’ve never heard of me lol. See you at the Opera House for the GRAND LAUNCH 13th April at 10!!”
Yesterday’s announcement stated Kaler and Leonard would be on hand at next Wednesday’s ticket sale launch.
The official confirmation on Barrass’s panto participation is awaited. Likewise, whether Suzy Cooper will or will not be returning.
DAME Berwick Kaler will pull on his big bovver boots for his second Grand Opera House pantomime, but will his “Famous In York Five” reunite?
The grand dame, 75, definitely will be joined in The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose by indomitable villain David Leonard and ‘luvverly Brummie’ AJ Powell, but two fellow regulars in the Kaler panto fixtures and fittings are yet to be confirmed. Or not.
“Further casting will be announced soon” is the official line. Watch this space for news of Kaler’s perennial sidekick, Martin Barrass, and principal golden gal Suzy Cooper as the Grand Opera House pantomime moves on to a new producer, UK Productions, after only one year under the Crossroads Pantomimes umbrella.
Dame Berwick and dastardly David will be on hand to launch ticket sales at the Cumberland Street theatre from 10am on Wednesday, April 13.
“I can’t wait to welcome Me Babbies and Bairns back to the Grand Opera House,” enthused Kaler, Britain’s longest-running dame. “But be warned – I’m under the not unreasonable delusion that I’m far too young to play a granny! So, brace yourself to expect the unexpected.”
Last December, Kaler returned to the York pantomime stage for the first time since February 2019, writing, directing and starring as dame Dotty Donut in Dick Turpin Rides Again alongside Barrass, Cooper, Leonard and Powell in their debut Grand Opera House panto.
Unlike so many pantomimes, they navigated the winter Covid wave without losing any performances or principal performers until the final week when both Kaler and Barrass had to step down after testing positive (despite experiencing no symptoms). In came Scotsmen Alan McHugh and Jack Buchanan, from the His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, pantomime cast, to play dame and stooge respectively.
Kaler had exited the York Theatre Royal pantomime stage bereft after 40 years, announcing The Grand Old Dame would be his farewell, but soon regretted his retirement decision, even more so after writing and co-directing the 2019-2020 show, Sleeping Beauty.
Dame Berwick and co duly signed up for Qdos Pantomimes’ new partnership with the Grand Opera House in January 2020 in the most sensational crosstown transfer since Denis Law swapped Manchester United for Manchester City in 1973.
The pandemic put a spoke in Dick Turpin’s planned return ride in 2020, and Qdos Pantomimes had been taken over by Crossroads Pantomimes by the time the show did go ahead last winter.
Now, Berwick will be back once more, presenting his second ageing variation on a Mother Goose theme after Old Mother Goose at York Theatre Royal in December 2014. It is yet to be confirmed if it will still be a traditional Kaler triple-threat show as star, writer and director or whether UK Productions will shake up the formula, not only in the casting but in the production team too.
In the meantime, the Grand Opera House publicity machine invites you to “discover for yourself why Berwick and his team have become a true rock of family entertainment over many decades with their hilarious anarchic approach to pantomime. It’s wonderfully madcap and is truly enjoyed by all ages. You may not remember the plot, but you will remember the laughs during the winter months.”
Producers UK Production have presented Christmas pantomimes across Great Britain for nigh on 30 years. During the 2022/23 season, they will produce 11 pantomimes of their own and provide productions to around another 30 nationwide.
Producer Martin Dodd said: “It is truly a privilege to be working with the legendary Berwick Kaler and his co-stars, including the deliciously devilish David Leonard and the lovely Brummie AJ Powell with further casting to be announced.
“I really am excited to be presenting this fabulously unique and much-loved pantomime that is as much a part of the York Christmas tradition as Turkey (or Goose!) and stuffing. We can promise a cracking good show full of laughter, music, and mayhem”.
The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose will run from December 10 2022 to January 8 2023. Next Wednesday morning’s general sale launch will be preceded by Priority TheatreCard Membership tickets from Monday, April 11. Prices will start at £13 at atgtickets.com/York or on 0844 871 7615.