Forty years on, Berwick Kaler is The Grand Old Dame of York
York’s legendary long-serving dame Berwick Kaler has announced the title of his 40th pantomime at the Theatre Royal. Traditionally, he reveals the title of the forthcoming show on the last night of the panto – and this year was no exception. After the curtain came down on the final performance of this year’s highly successful production of Jack & the Beanstalk, he announced to the packed auditorium that the title of the 2018-19 pantomime as The Grand Old Dame of York. As well as starring as Dame, Berwick writes and co-directs the world-famous pantomime with the cast including his regular panto ‘family’ including Martin Barrass, David Leonard and Suzy Cooper. York Theatre Royal Artistic Director Damian Cruden co-directs a show that is affectionately known by performers and the regular audience as ‘the same old rubbish’.
After playing panto villains, Berwick first put on a frock in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal in 1977. He played Philomena, one of the Ugly Sisters. He made his York debut earlier that year as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Apart from two years (1986 and 1987) when he was appearing in London’s West End, he’s been the Grand Old Dame of York ever since. His opening words “Me babbies, me bairns” have become his catchphrase along with hurling Wagon Wheels into the audience and giving out bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale. His first York panto script was for Aladdin in 1981. An absence of plot has become one of the hallmarks of his scripts. “Plots are for cemeteries,” he once joked. As well as variations on regular panto titles such as The Lad Aladdin and Robin Hood & His Merry Mam, he has created original pantos including Dick Turpin The Panto.
Panto co-director Damian Cruden said:
“This year is Berwick’s 40th and we are celebrating with a brand new pantomime The Grand Old Dame of York. The regular team will be back and we’re already hard at work in preparing next year’s extravaganza. To have served the York community with such steadfast dedication for 40 years is a huge achievement. Berwick is the nation’s greatest Panto Dame and he stands as equal to the greats like Dan Leno, Stanley Baxter and Jimmy Logan. He has created his very own unique Dame as all the greats do, with annual outings that have unstintingly entertained the people of York and beyond. Each year he creates a completely new pantomime with a team of dedicated professionals at YTR. His determination to maintain high production standards is echoed in YTR’s commitment to providing the best for our audiences. The York Panto with Berwick as its Dame is a yearly celebration with our community not to be missed!”
The Grand Old Dame of York will play from Thursday 13 December 2018 to 2 February 2019.
Tickets will go on sale on 1 March in person only from the York Theatre Royal box office.
Yorkshire Wonders’ Review of last year’s panto at the York Theatre Royal:
I have been a regular at the York Theatre Royal panto since I was little. I can’t remember a time when Berwick ‘Me babbies, me bairns!’ Kaler was not the pantomime Dame there. This year is his 39th year of being the Dame at the Theatre Royal though, so it’s hardly surprising. When I told my children that I saw Berwick in the panto when I was their age, they were both incredulous and damning that he couldn’t possibly be that old. The insult was definitely levelled in my direction rather than Berwick’s though, who was as lively and slapstick as ever!
I was also very happy to see the return of Martin Barrass who was involved in a serious accident on his motorbike last year. Like Berwick, he was on great form. The pair made several jokes about their ribs – Martin broke 17 of his ribs in the accident, while Berwick had his broken during heart surgery earlier this year.
This year’s offering was ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and is the first year we have taken the children to an evening pantomime. They are more early-to-bed kids and I usually opt for a matinee. I was a bit worried, there would be a bit of tired grumpiness towards the end of the performance, but they were captivated throughout. It’s definitely more of a grown-ups’ pantomime, with lots of in-jokes that had Miss H saying ‘I didn’t understand that’. But it never mattered to them, they loved it anyway. They loved the high energy, the glittering costumes and the slapstick comedy.
Watching the York Theatre Royal panto is like coming home for Christmas. It’s funny, and heart-warming and you feel like you are amongst family. We are already looking forward to next year!
Have a look at what other events are on in Yorkshire this Christmas.