AFTER last winter’s resourceful response to Covid restrictions with the Travelling Pantomime, York Theatre Royal’s panto returns to the main house for Cinderella from tomorrow (3/12/2021).
This will be the second co-production with the award-garlanded Evolution Productions, whose director and producer, Paul Hendy, has again written the script for Juliet Forster’s cast.
In the company will be CBeebies’ Andy Day (Dandini); Faye Campell (Cinderella) and Robin Simpson (Sister) from the Travelling Pantomime cast; Paul Hawkyard (the other ugly Sister); comedian and ventriloquist Max Fulham (Buttons); Benjamin Lafayette (Prince Charming) and Sarah Leatherbarrow (Fairy Godmother).
“We’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time now,” says creative director Juliet Forster. “It feels very emotional to be working with a full cast, rehearsing back in the De Grey Rooms.
“We had a great time taking the Travelling Pantomime around the city last Christmas, but, oh my word, it’s just lovely to be back inside the theatre and to give a massive Theatre Royal welcome to Evolution.”
After the exit of the gang of five, Berwick Kaler, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper, Martin Barrass and A J Powell, to the Grand Opera House, Forster’s pantomime cast has more of a diverse look, typical of her work. “I’ve almost always been able to do that with my casting because, in a lot of ways, I like to reflect the world we live in.
“For me, it’s more dynamic that way, and it was a policy with me before it became an Arts Council thing.”
Juliet believes the new Theatre Royal pantomime will appeal to a family audience and be marked by warmth. “That warmth will come from the performers, Paul’s script and from myself directing it,” she says.
“That’s not something you can manufacture. You have to feel it and encourage it, and the number one thing I learned from doing the Travelling Pantomime was the need to work with a cast that’s really funny and warm. When you get that mixture, you have a wonderful bond with the audience.”
Juliet adds: “I learned a lot from last year’s show being my first panto. Even though I’d done a lot of children’s shows, comedies and farces, pantomime is very much its own form, and I acquired a lot of respect for Paul’s panto-writing skills.
“The other thing I learned, and another big reason for wanting to do it again, was Hayley Del Harrison’s choreography, which was so playful and individual. I loved how she worked with each cast member really individually to bring out their character in their dancing.
“Hayley is back this year, and we’re doing more of that way of working – and we have the ensemble back too. Again, it was a big learning curve for me that dance can not only be beautiful and spectacular in panto but playful and fun too, and that’s something Hayley really brings out.”
Writer-producer Paul Hendy is delighted by the casting too. “It’s not by accident,” he says. “It’s done with this in mind: more than anything we want to appeal to a family audience. That’s my driving force.
“The cast must have that appeal; they must be talented, and they have to have that youthful energy to make the audience go, ‘wow, this is a great show, a different show from the norm’, mixing those qualities with spectacle and comedy. They’re all the ingredients that make a good panto.”
Paul acknowledges the “big reputation” of York Theatre Royal’s pantomime built up over Berwick Kaler’s four-decade damehood. “It’s very significant. Berwick helped to really establish York as a pantomime city, and we will carry that on but with a different flavour. I have every confidence in what we do, and we think people will say, ‘oh yes, we love this show too’,” he says.
“There is definitely room for two large-scale pantomimes in this city. People will come and see this show for what it is, done with a lot of love and care, done in a bespoke way for York audiences. If people want high quality, they will enjoy this show.”
After the positive response to the Travelling Pantomime, audiences can expect more of the same, but more of it! “I was so pleased and proud to be associated with last year’s show. Cinderella will be in that style but on a much bigger scale, with that humour, that spirit, that connectivity with the audience.
“It’s also ‘meta-theatre’ with a knowing awareness to it: it’s that thing of everyone knowing it’s not just Andy Day playing Dandini, but it’s Andy Day from CBeebies playing Dandini. It works better when everyone knows it.”
The last word goes to Juliet, who says: “It feels right to start the new era at the Theatre Royal with Evolution with Cinderella, the best known of all pantomimes, but also a pantomime without a dame, to give the transition time, not wanting someone to have to step into Berwick’s shoes straightaway, out of respect for him, but with a gradual progression to the future in mind.”
Cinderella runs at York Theatre Royal from tomorrow (3/12/2021) to January 2. Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Copyright of The Press, York