Fry’s delight at taking his Town Crier role into pantoland for Snow White

Ben Fry’s Town Crier and Mark Little’s Lord Chamberlain of Trumpville in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York. . Picture: David Harrison

FOURTEEN years had passed since Ben Fry’s one and only appearance in pantomime, but the City of York Town Crier was quick to say Oyez, Oyez, Oyez to starring in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs this winter.

The Minster FM breakfast show co-presenter is playing, you guessed it, the Town Crier at the Grand Opera House until Saturday, in the company of ’Allo, ’Allo! star Vicki Michelle’s Wicked Queen and Australian comedian Mark Little’s Lord Chamberlain of Trumpville.

“I did panto once before at the Scarborough Spa in 2005 when I was at Yorkshire Coast Radio, and I played one of the Ugly Sisters – she was called Ugly Sister Whitby – in Cinderella,” recalls Ben.

“I remember it was a Tony Peers production: he was a panto legend, who gave me plenty of good advice, so I was able to go from nothing to playing Ugly Sister in one leap! It felt like an episode of Big Brother, where every experience is heightened; every emotion is heightened.”

Ben may have the gift of the gab as a cheeky radio presenter, speaking off the cuff each morning, but performing in pantomime makes contrasting demands. “Having to follow a script and learn lines is a different experience, which is interesting to do, though once you’re into the show, the performances are flexible, and the next show can be nothing like the last one!”  he says.

“Part of the fun with pantomime is that no two performances are ever the same, and while it might be a bit of a treadmill, it’s never boring.”

Ben is candid about his acting skills. “Let’s be honest,” he says. “I’m not in Snow White for my acting prowess, am I?! I’m a walking, talking PR machine on the radio, to make as many people as possible know about it.

“So, I’m being the Town Crier for the show almost as much off stage as I am on stage. I see my job as being to get bums on seats, then I hand it over to the professionals.

“I think we only agreed I should be in the show once the rest of the cast was in place, so Chris [Three Bears Productions’ director and co-producer Chris Moreno] then shoe-horned me into the show here and there. No-one is coming specially to see me, but hopefully because I’ve plugged the show.

“I don’t think anyone will be saying, ‘it was fantastic, but I’d hoped there would be more bell ringing’.”

Vicki Michelle as the Wicked Queen in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Picture: David Harrison

Ben is being unduly modest. He more than holds his own in the Busy Bee, Busy Bee slapstick scene with Martin Daniels’ Muddles, and he plays not only the Town Crier but also a second uncredited role.

Ben’s “costume” is the official City of York Town Crier livery, coupled with the City of York bell. “So, anyone who’s seen me around town since May will recognise me on stage,” he says. “It’s all a bit ‘meta’: the real Town Crier being the real Town Crier ion pantomime, whereas Vicki Michelle is not playing a wartime French waitress!”

As a son of York, Ben is “very proud to represent the city” both in his presenter’s role on Minster FM and now as the Town Crier too. “The Town Crier is the embodiment of York: I like the pageantry, the history, and it adds something else to people’s experience when they come to the city,” he says.

Picking out highlights from his first year in office, Ben selects pop star Ellie Goulding and Casper Jopling’s wedding ceremony at York Minster on August 31. “Welcoming Ellie to the Minster…and meeting Katy Perry that day was obviously the greatest day of my life – and that includes my wedding day and the birth of my two children,” he says, with his tongue by now nudging his cheek.

“The Mayor-making ceremony was a good day too, and I enjoyed the ceremonies for Yorkshire Day [August 1] , reading out the declarations at four bars where you enter the city, and the Christmas Lights switch-on in front of the Minster was pretty special too.”

Maybe Ben was destined to put his voice to public use as York’s Town Crier. “When I was a child, people always said that I had to grow into my voice, as even then I had a loud, bellowing voice,” he says.

It was a voice that stood out. “! got picked to play Bob Cratchit in Scrooge when I was at Westfield Primary School in Acomb,” Ben recalls.

That voice led him all the way to becoming the matchday pitch announcer at Elland Road during Ken Bates’s turbulent chairmanship of Leeds United, when Ben also would interview “Mr Chairman” on Bates’s station, Yorkshire Radio.

“It was a difficult time for Leeds United, as there was a great deal of unrest, and I was seen by some as a frontman for Ken as I was doing a lot of interviews with him, as well as doing the matchday stuff on the pitch,” he says.

“But I’d always wanted to work in football, and you don’t know when the chance will come. Those moments under the Elland Road floodlights, like when Luciano Becchio put Leeds ahead against Chelsea, were special.

“I’ll never forget the game against Bristol Rovers when Leeds won promotion, going around the pitch with [centre forward] Jermaine Beckford after the final whistle, in a yellow high-vis jacket, and being asked by the police to tell all the fans to get off the pitch. It was possibly the most futile thing I’ve ever been asked to do in my career!”

No stranger to performing to crowds, Ben is taking his pantomime role in his stride as he sees in the New Year.  What’s next? “We’ll be doing the Minster FM Search For A Local Hero in February, and the Town Crier is available for any fete or envelope opening, of course,” says Ben. “Just go to the York BID website and make a request there.”

Ben Fry plays Town Crier in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, until January 4. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at Charles Hutchinson

Green light for Blue Light Theatre Co’s panto capers in Oh! What A Circus

Zoe Paylor’s Pinata and Mark Friend’s Pinocchio, from Blue Light Theatre Company’s Oh! What A Circus cast, at Acomb Cobblers. All pictures: Scott Atkinson

ROLL up! Roll up! The Blue Light Theatre Company’s pantomime, Oh! What A Circus, will open at Acomb Working Men’s Club, York, next month.

Made up of paramedics, ambulance dispatchers, York Hospital staff and members of York’s theatre scene, the company will be in action on January 24, 25 and January 29 to 31 at 7.30pm nightly, plus a 1pm matinee on January 25.

Blue Light Theatre Company’s cast members for Oh! What A Circus at Acomb Working Men’s Club

“Our story revolves around two circuses, one good and one evil, and their search for a star act, but which circus will succeed?” says Mark Friend, who plays Pinocchio.  “This is a family-friendly show that would make a perfect Christmas gift for the whole family, especially as it features many famous fairy-tale characters such as Pinocchio, Geppetto, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, Tinkerbell and Hansel and Gretel.”

In the cast will be Steven Clark, as dame Dolly Mixsteur; Glen Gears, Darius De’vil; Jorvik Kalicinski, Geppetto; Mark Friend, Pinocchio; Perri-Ann Barley, Rapunzel; Devon Walls, Red Riding Hood; Brenda Riley, Magenta, the Sorceress; Craig Barley, Cyril and Old Man, and Kevin Bowes, Nodoff, the Clown.

Shoe-in for success: Blue Light Theatre Company’s Zoe Paylor (Pinata), Jorvik Kalicinski (Geppetto) and Mark Friend (Pinocchio) at Acomb Cobblers

So too will be Linden Horwood, as Tinkerbell; Pat Mortimer, Signora Fi Lacio; Zoe Paylor, Pinata and Suki; Kristian Barley, Hansel; Katelyn Botterill, Gretel, and Kalayna Barley, Bird and one of the four Piglets, Pandora. The other three will be Kathryn Donley as Pringles; Charlotte Botterill, Pippa, and Abigail Botterill, Primrose.

Director and producer Craig Barley leads the production team, joined by writer/co-producer Perri-Ann Barley; choreographer Devon Wells and the costumes team of Brenda Riley and Christine Friend. Steven Clark has written additional material.

Sizing up Pinocchio: Jorvik Kalicinski’s shoemaker Geppetto works on Mark Friend’s Pinocchio’s shoe as Zoe Paylor’s Pinata looks on at Acomb Cobblers

As in previous years, Blue Light will be raising money for York Against Cancer and Motor Neurone Disease (York). “We hope to exceed our record-breaking £3,000, which was split between the charities after our last production, Wonderland,” says Mark.

“We’ve had fantastic support from local and national businesses, and our raffle prizes include family passes to many of York and North Yorkshire’s famous attractions. We also offer a cheap bar, which now accepts credit and debit cards, and cheap pick’n’mix sweet bags for sale at the shows.”

Tickets cost £10, adults, £8, concessions, £5, children, at, on 07933 329654 or from cast members. “We’re hoping to sell some tickets for Christmas zero-waste presents over the next couple of days,” says Mark.

Did you know?

SHOULD you be wondering, the publicity photographs were taken by Scott Atkinson at Mansell Hughes’s shoe repairs shop, Acomb Cobblers, in Green Lane, Acomb. “Mansell is a huge support to us, giving us free rein of his shop for our photo-shoot,” says Mark Friend.

REVIEW: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York

The Seven Dwarfs and Muddles (Martin Daniels, right) attend to the poison apple-drugged Snow White (Louise Henry) in the Grand Opera House pantomime. Picture: David Harrison.

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, until January 4 2020. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at

THIS is Three Bears Productions’ fourth Grand Opera House pantomime, written, directed and co-produced by Chris Moreno, a canny veteran of commercial theatre.

He has made two significant additions this year, bringing a York flavour to his familiar panto template of a serviceable script and set design. First, “York’s very own” Louise Henry, 22, from Knaresborough, was picked from more than 30 hopefuls for the title role, in a year when she has impressed as Liesl in York Stage Musicals’ The Sound Of Music at the same theatre  and in Rigmarole Theatre Company’s apocalyptic When The Rain Stops Falling last month.

Playing Snow White marks her professional debut, a step up she handles with aplomb and poise, in song, dance and bonding with fellow York panto debutant Jonny Muir’s upstanding Prince Rudolph and the Seven Dwarfs (played by two alternating teams of children, the Magic Mirrors and Magic Apples). Louise Henry will be back, for sure.

The second smart move was to invite one of York’s most familiar voices, Minster FM breakfast show co-host Ben Fry, to reprise his official role as York’s Town Crier, ringing his bell and making proclamations, as he has since May, but this time on stage. “Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah,” he says. “Oh no, oh no, oh no,” comes the audience’s reply without hesitation or invitation.

Fry, spoiler alert, also pops up as the ageing King and has plenty of fun with North Eastern entertainer and magician Martin Daniels’ Muddles in the time-honoured Busy Bee water slapstick scene: one of those moments that can be played off the cuff by two performers tuned into quick thinking.

There is room for more such impromptu outbreaks, in particular for Steve Wickenden’s southern dame, Nurse Brexit, a divisive name but never a divisive character in his fourth Grand Opera House panto. The Brexit joke gets done once and then disappears even more quickly than Boris Johnson hopes to conclude his oven-ready deal.

Last year, after Ken Morley was taken ill in the very first performance of Cinderella, Wickenden turned himself into both Ugly Sisters, a solo double act that was twice the pleasure. This time, by comparison, he is a little underused, although his version of Avenue Q’s I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today is an inspired, unexpected choice, delivered with panache, and his wardrobe is as peachy as ever.

Getting Nurse Brexit done: Steve Wickenden’s dame in: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Picture: David Harrison.

Rather than topical satirical comment, big names are occasionally dropped in, Laurence Llewelyn Bowen, Donald Trump and Gordon Ramsay, for example. Much of the comedy is rooted in traditional pantomime routines, putdowns and daft one-liners, although Daniels’ Muddles, the show’s very reliable glue in his jester’s hat, has room to roam into adlibs while being the children’s favourite. His magic ingredient is his cheeky nous, but he has magic tricks up his sleeve too.

Daniels and Wickenden have become important to the Grand Opera House panto, continuity being the third factor in establishing the Three Bears brand.

Star names always play their part too. Say ’Allo, ’Allo! to Vicki Michelle as the vampy, vain Wicked Queen Titania (“You can call me Titty,” she says) and comedian and presenter Mark Little, once of Neighbours, now her Australian sidekick in the land of Much Piddling.

Little had been expecting to play the Evil Sorcerer when the cast first gathered for the press launch but he is now billed as Lord Chamberlain of Trumpville, one of those evil, but actually not evil roles that inevitably loses some of his bite. Little and not so larger than life, in other words. That said, his duet of Elvis Presley’s Trouble with Michelle is one of the musical high spots.

Musical director Aaron Nice has chosen the ballads and cheesy pop hits well, from the opening ensemble number Nicest Kids In Town; through the Dwarfs’ signature song, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), and the Snow White-led Whistle Whistle; to the crowd pleasers, Live While We’re Young and especially Shutup And Dance.

Emily Taylor’s choreography is bright and bubbly, driven by dynamic bursts of movement, amusingly so when the Dwarfs join in. Played in the past by dwarves from the actors’ union, the roles now tend to go to puppets or, as is the case here, children with adult voiceovers and movement to give them character.

Strictly speaking, look out too for a familiar fairy face in the mirror, Debbie McGee, seeking out the fairest in the land, and you can’t say fairer than that.

Charles Hutchinson

Copyright of The Press, York

See the latest Grand Opera House pantomime trailer here:

No rest for post-dame Berwick Kaler as Sleeping Beauty awakes at Theatre Royal

The final curtain: Berwick Kaler saying farewell to 40 years as York Theatre Royal’s pantomime dame on February 2 2019

LAST night was press night for Sleeping Beauty, the first York Theatre Royal pantomime since Berwick Kaler hung up the dame’s big boots after 40 years.

Unlike Elvis, however, Kaler has not left the building. Now 73, he is still taking care of business, writing the script; co-directing with Leeds City Varieties rock’n’roll alumnus Matt Aston; appearing in two film sequences and in doll’s head form for baby Beauty, and providing sporadic voiceovers too.

How was the show? A thing of beauty, or should this panto format be put to sleep? See Charles Hutchinson’s verdict later today.

In the meantime, let’s remember the Dame Berwick Kaler years from an Ugly Sister in 1977 to exit stage left, February 2 2019. The total reads: Jack And The Beanstalk, six pantos; Mother Goose, five; Cinderella, five; Aladdin, five; Dick Whittington, four; Babes In The Wood, three; Sleeping Beauty, two; Sinbad The Sailor, two; Humpty Dumpty, one; Beauty And The Beast, one; Old Mother Milly, one; Dick Turpin, one; Humpty Dumpty, one; York Family Robinson, one; Robin Hood & His Merry Mam, one, and his last stand, The Grand Old Dame Of York, one. 

Neighbours’ Mark Little turns evil in York for panto sorcery in Snow White

Mark Little at the press day to launch Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: David Harrison

MARK Little has to decide on the colour for his pantomime goatee beard when playing the evil Lord Chamberlain in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York.

“It was purple two years ago, green last Christmas, maybe black and white this time,” says the ex-pat Australian actor, comedian, writer, television presenter and 2019 Dancing On Ice contestant, who will be appearing in his 15th panto from tomorrow (December 12) to January 4.

After starting out playing the “silly billy” daft lad, he has since settled into the baddie’s role. “You get to an age in pantomime where you become a bit old for the fool, which needs a lot of energy,” says Mark. “I reached a point where I thought, ‘where do I fit in’? Ah, the baddie.”

Now 60, Snow White will be his eighth panto since switching to the dark side. “My villains tend to be crazed rather than evil. Unhinged. More Maggie on acid, than Boris! Unnerving,”  he says.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

“I don’t make my baddies creepy. I call the children ‘stinkers’, and the more I insult them, the more angry they get with me, and they know the more they show dissent, the more I react, but they know that good has to triumph over evil, so I love to hear them booing.

“There’s a lot going on right now to make us want to boo, but theatre is a safe environment to do it. That’s one of the reasons theatre is there for, especially panto, to mock things we don’t agree with, celebrate things we love and reflect on where we’re going.

“So I like to ‘place’ my baddie in that present time. Like Trump not being acceptable, and we have a licence to openly mock that.”

After making his name as Joe Mangel in the Australian soap Neighbours from 1988 to 1991, Mark has lived in Britain for 25 years, 20 of them in Brighton before moving to Wood Green, London, to be close to his grandchildren.

The great cape: A swirling Mark Little in evil Lord Chamberlain mode for Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Picture: David Harrison.

He has presented The Big Breakfast, appeared regularly on The Wright Stuff and Big Brother’s Bit On The Side and toured his one-man show Defending The Caveman, playing the Grand Opera House in 2007 and York Theatre Royal in 2010. Pantomime has become a fixture on his calendar in Britain, but back in Australia, it is a different story.

“There’s no such thing. Australia doesn’t have theatre in its DNA. Sport, yes, but culture’s put to one side. It’s all sport. You have to have a number on your back! But here in the UK, Brits are going to the theatre from the age of six and playing football. You do both.

“As I was growing up, all our television came over from Britain. It’s not a mystery that I ended up living here because we were brought up on all that culture.”

Gradually Australia sought its identity through film, whereas “even Neighbours took a while for Australia to connect with,” says Mark. “It wasn’t heralded the same way it was over here. It was ‘the show with the sets that wobbled’. But it was celebrated here.”

Neighbours went from being “the soap that no-one noticed in Australia” to,” whoosh, a show that really took off”. Mark arrived in Britain to perform his own comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe just as the first series began to be aired over here, two years behind Australia.

“I wasn’t ready for what happened next. Joe Mangel took over!” he says. “That’s a phenomenon I’ll never recover from. If the Brits get into something they love, they hold on hard and strong. Joe Mangel will live with me forever.

“I ended up presenting The Big Breakfast, having done that type of TV in Australia on Zoo TV, and they thought I could do the same thing here. My style of comedy is fairly crazy, anarchic, plenty of mayhem. People trusted Joe Mangel, so I was ‘Johnny Foreigner taking the mick and mocking British culture’, which they don’t like usually here, but they’d taken to Joe Mangel, so they loved it.

“My comedy suited that Tiswas style, and it’s the kind of show that TV looks like it’s crying out for now.”

Mark Little, left, with his Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs co-stars, Steve Wickenden, Martin Daniels, Louise Henry, Jonny Muir, and Vicki Michelle. Picture: David Harrison

At the time of this interview, Mark was sporting a full beard from a three-week shoot filming the low-budget independent film Passing Through in the South of France. “David Hall, a playwright and theatre director, wrote the part for me,” he says.

“It’s his first feature film, and I play an Australian teacher who’s been in Britain for 25 years and decides to go to the South of France with his new wife, on her new anti-depressants, to try to forge a new life amid the gypsies,” he says.

“But along comes his estranged son to remind him of his old life. All their problems come up and we see if they can be rectified or not.

“It’s not a car-chase film! It’s not chick.lit! It’s a bit old-fashioned in style with an international flavour. It’s taking a cathartic look at a modern relationship, a modern family, in an anti-depressant world, where they’re trying to deal with the past and the present by creating a new future when he has his redundancy money.”

Metaphysical in tone, Passing Through is set at a time “when it’s hard to be happy, and what is happiness anyway?”, says Mark. “It doesn’t come up with schmaltzy answers. My character just thinks we better have some fun making a future.”

By comparison, pantomime is a world of certainty where good will defeat evil, and Mark Little’s grandchildren will enjoy every chance to “boo Pop”.

Mark Little stars in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, from December 12 to January 4 2020. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at

Charles Hutchinson

Rowntree Players’ Sinbad set sails from “Scarbados” for rollicking panto romp

Mop-handed: Laura White’s villainous Abadun demands her crew polish up their act in Rowntree Players’ Sinbad

HOWARD Ella and Andy Welch are at the helm of their sixth Rowntree Players pantomime, Sinbad.

All at sea – in a good way – at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday (December 14), this rollicking romp finds the co-writers returning to The Arabian Nights: Tales Of One Thousand And One Nights, or 1,001 Scarbadian Nights, more precisely, as Welch’ storyline gives the seafaring adventure a Yorkshire shake-up.

Director Ella and co-writer Welch put the naughty into nautical by telling the story with significant artistic licence, especially for Graham Smith’s dame, Tilly Tinbad.

“In honesty, the seven voyages of Sinbad are invariably a disaster,” notes Welch. “They tend to end with the ship sunk and the crew lost.  Not so many laughs in that!”

Enter the humour of Ella and Welch. “We’ve taken the bare bones of the stories – a young and eager sailor with a good heart and a taste for adventure – and we’ve set him on a course to fight pirates, rescue royalty and search for sunken treasure…”

“…But with plenty of silliness in between,” says Welch. “There’s the regular environmentally friendly, recycled comedy material, brilliant song and dance and what, we hope, is the biggest and best slosh scene we’ve ever done!

Hannah King’s Sinbad in Sinbad at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York

“I don’t want to give too much away, but needless to say the band in the pit are bringing brollies!”

In the sixth year of their writing partnership, Ella and Welch are confident that time is not jading them. “We’ve really started to find our rhythm as writers and know what bits we each sparkle at!” says Ella.

“Basically, unless we both laugh at a gag, it doesn’t make it; unless we both love a song, it doesn’t go in, but that’s become an instinctive filter that really helps us hone the script. 

“It’s that need to appeal to every age and humour that remains the challenge, but I think we’re getting the hang of it.”

“Definitely,” decides Welch.  “This year is an absolute belter: fast paced, great fun and totally ridiculous. What more do you expect from panto?!”

Rowntree Players present Sinbad, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Haxby Road, York, until Saturday, December 14. Performances: 7.30pm plus 2pm Saturday matinee (sold out).  Ticket availability is limited for the remaining shows, especially for Friday (only a few left). Box office: 01904 501935 or at

Charles Hutchinson

All rise for Martin Barrass, new queen of York Theatre Royal’s pantomime

Putting the Royal into York Theatre Royal: Martin Barrass as Queen Ariadne in Sleeping Beauty. Picture: Anthony Robling

HE ain’t nothing like a dame. Instead, Martin Barrass, perennial pantomime soft lad, comic stooge and sidekick punchbag, will not so much step into Berwick Kaler’s big boots at York Theatre Royal as reinvent himself in regal mode for Sleeping Beauty.

All rise for Barrass’s Queen Ariadne as the Hull-born actor adds to his repertoire in his 33rd panto, performing once more alongside David Leonard’s villainous Evil Diva, Suzy Cooper’s Princess Beauty and AJ Powell’s Darth Diva.

Dame Berwick may have left the stage after 40 years of pantomayhem, but he has not left the building, writing the script once more and directing the morning rehearsal sessions, as he works in tandem with new co-director Matt Aston for the first time.

Kaler has not been available for interviews, concentrating his energies elsewhere at 73 and leaving the spotlight to Barrass and others, although the betting odds are shorter than for Frankel at York Racecourse in 2012 that the departed dame will make an appearance on screen.

He’s still with stupid! “There’s still a bit there that’s my familiar character, so it has shades of the idiot,” says Martin Barrass. Picture: Anthony Robling

“My Queen will be like a duck,” says 63-year-old Barrass. “Looking serene on the surface but paddling away frantically beneath the water.

“This year, it sounds very much like I’ll be in a transitional place, where the dame would have been. My Queen will be ‘alpha and unputdownable’, but there’s still a bit there that’s my familiar character, so it still has shades of the idiot.”

Rather than anyone filling the black hole of pandemonium left by Kaler, the Panto Four will share the challenge, although the most intriguing progression is Barrass’s switch. “I’m aware it’s an enormous undertaking because people stop you in the street to ask, ‘So, Martin, are you the dame this year?’, and I have to say, ‘No, I’m the Queen of all her subjects’.

“I know I’m following in the footsteps of a master, the greatest ad-libber ever, and what you have to be in this role is slightly above it, aware of what’s going on around you, being prepared for any audience heckles.

Re-united: The Panto Four, now minus retired Dame Berwick Kaler,, in familiar pose, Suzy Cooper, David Leonard, Martin Barrass and A J Powell

“Comedy like this always has to be flexible, always switched on for the unexpected, the chance to be anarchistic.

”It will be a case of calming myself down for what lies ahead, but I’m lucky to have watched a genius in operation at close hand.”

You can sense that far from being intimidated by the task, Barrass is rising to it, just as he did when playing the deformed Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man or Stan Laurel in Laurel And Hardy at the Theatre Royal; station porter Albert Perks in E Nesbit’s The Railway Children at the National Railway Museum; or the 87-year-old waiter in Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors for the National Theatre at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Or, earlier this year, excelling as band conductor Danny Ormondroyd, “the Peter Postlethwaite role”, in Brassed Off at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Bounce back: Martin Barrass in rehearsal for Sleeping Beauty. Picture: Anthony Robling

“I loved playing Perks, blowing the whistle, controlling the engines, just as I loved playing Danny, conducting a band of 36. I don’t know how we crammed them all in!” says Martin. “Being tone deaf, I had to learn everything about conducting. Playing Danny, he’s the king of his fiefdom, his colliery brass band, and he’s to be feared in some way, when you really make people listen to you.

“So now, playing Queen Ariadne, she won’t be afraid to throw her weight around, but in a nice way, as I’m only eight and a half stone.”

Over his 33 years as the stooge, Barrass has played all manner of animals, a giant carrot, a goofy archbishop and a twist on his hapless One Man, Two Guvnors character, the venerable, if physically vulnerable Chinese philosopher Wisehopper. The Queen will be different again. “Don’t expect to see a scrap of make-up because it’s in the tradition of Old Mother and Berwick’s dame: you know it’s played by a bloke,” he says.

“But how you play it is a tonal thing: you can have a lot of fun with the ‘bunchness’ of the voice, for example. Berwick always said, ‘I don’t want to offend the men in the room’, so I won’t be veering into the realms of drag and camp. I’ll leave that to David Leonard!”

Exit the dame: An emotional Martin Barrass, for so long his comic stooge, embraces Berwick Kaler at the close of the veteran dame’s last performance in The Grand Old Dame Of York on February 2.. Pictures: Anthony Robling

Placing his Queen, as opposed to a dame, Martin says: “Normally the role is someone like a washer woman of lower status, but you don’t get any bigger than the Queen! I’ll be playing her as a cross between Eric Morecambe and Fanny Craddock.

“As Berwick would be the first to say, you should do whatever suits you, whatever you’re at ease with, though there’ll still be traces of Hull in my Queen.

“So this Queen will be as common as muck, and that’s how you have fun with it, along with assuming Berwick’s role of always having the last say.”

He’s just had it!

Martin Barrass stars in Sleeping Beauty, York Theatre Royal, December 7 to January 25. Box office: 01904 623568, at or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

By Charles Hutchinson

Copyright of The Press, York

Louise is just right for Snow White in first professional role

Royal appointment: Louise Henry as Princess Snow White in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture by David Harrison.

LOUISE Henry will swap flat whites for Snow White next week after being picked to lead the Grand Opera House pantomime cast in York.

Louise, 22, from Knaresborough, works at the Hoxton North café bar in Royal Parade, Harrogate, but will join rehearsals for Three Bears Productions’ Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs from Monday (December 2) for the December 13 to January 4 2020 run.

After playing Liesl von Trapp in York Stage Musicals’ The Sound Of Music at the Cumberland Street theatre, now she will star as Princess Snow White alongside Mark Little’s villainous Lord Chamberlain, regular dame Steve Wickenden’s Nurse Brexit, ’Allo, ’Allo! star Vicki Michelle’s Wicked Queen and Martin Daniels’ Muddles.

From producer Chris Moreno’s search for a local principal girl in Three Bears’ fourth Opera House panto, Louise was among 30 invited from the many applicants for a day’s auditions in May.

After queueing in the rain in the line of Snow White hopefuls that formed along the stage door wall, she won through to the shortlist of 12 for the afternoon’ s second session and was then picked for panto principal girl after a nervous wait.

Meet the Grand Opera House pantomime cast: Mark Little, left, Steve Wickenden, Martin Daniels, Louise Henry, Jonny Muir, and Vicki Michelle. Picture by David Harrison.

“The auditions were on the Wednesday, and they rang me just as I was setting off to work on the Friday afternoon,” Louise recalls. “I’d been refreshing my emails, hoping for news, and it was such a euphoric moment when the phone call came.      

“I’m so thankful to have been chosen. I’ve been beaming whenever I’m reminded that I’m signing my first professional contract. I’m really looking forward to getting into the theatre and putting the show together. Performing is all I have ever wanted to do and I feel so lucky that my Christmas this year will be doing just that.”

Although Louise has not studied at drama school since leaving school, “I’ve had acting and singing lessons for as long as I can remember and I’ve done lots of theatre work, like school plays when I was at King James’s in Knaresborough,” she says.

“From the age of nine to 17, I went to the ACTAcademy in Harrogate, run by Kelly Creates, when we took part in the Harrogate Festival of Speech and Drama and did The Big T talent show at Harrogate Theatre, and I’ve had singing tuition with Jacqueline Bell in Wetherby too.”

Louise impressed in Nik Briggs’s April production of The Sound Of Music, playing the eldest von Trapp daughter, Liesl. “I was 21 playing 16, and the next in age to me was 12, playing 15!” she says. “It’s such a nice show to do because it’s so honest, and it was sad when it came to an end as we all made such good friends.

Welcome to York: Louise Henry, from Knaresborough, is pictured by Clifford’s Tower after landing the role of Snow White in the Grand Opera House pantomime. Picture: David Harrison

“It was lovely to be able to become familiar with the Grand Opera House stage too before doing the panto.”

Since The Sound Of Music, Louise has appeared in two more York shows, the first being another Nik Briggs production, Joseph McNeice and Matthew Spalding’s new musical comedy, Twilight Robbery, at 41 Monkgate in May.

“I played Jane, the daughter, who’s 40 years old, so I went from one extreme, 16-year-old Liesl, to another…and now I’ll be playing Snow White!”

The nearest she has come to playing her own age was her most recent role, a young Australian woman, Gabrielle York, in Rigmarole Theatre Company’s debut production, Andrew Bovell’s apocalyptic family drama When The Rain Stops Falling, at 41 Monkgate in November.

Louise Henry, right, playing Gabrielle York in Rigmarole Theatre Company’s When The Rain Stops Falling earlier this month. Picture: Michael J Oakes

Now her focus turns to her professional bow, billed as “York’s very own Louise Henry” in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.

“I’ve done one panto before, Aladdin, an amateur one for the Pannal Players when I was maybe 14,” says Louise,

Looking forward to starting rehearsals on Monday, she says: “This opportunity is what I’ve been waiting for, and I’ve just got to have faith in my abilities.

“Snow White is on stage for most of the time, so I’ll always need to react in the moment, and that’s something that will add to my repertoire of skills, which I’m always working on.”

Imagine how Louise feels as the first night approaches, knowing she is taking on the title role in a star-laden show. “I know! It’s my show! How crazy is that!” she says. “When I rang my sister to tell her I’d got the part, she didn’t believe it…and when I rang my mum, I had to say, ‘no, I’m not kidding’. That was a really fantastic day!”

Louise Henry stars in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, December 13 to January 4 2020. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at

Charles Hutchinson