Dick Turpin, Guy Fawkes, Chocolate Orange, Judi Dench and for us Yorkies …. Berwick Kaler. I saw my first panto with Berwick when I was seven years old, the sense of occasion and entry into the York pantheon of humour a baptism of fire I have followed into the flames every Christmas into adulthood. Therefore to see Berwick, The Grand Old Dame of York, give her final bow, felt like the alternative coming of age tale.
To explain to outsiders what makes these evenings of fun so electric is a hard challenge: is it tradition? Partly. But more importantly it’s the sheer quality of them. They nod harmoniously to the old music hall, not reliant on a fading star but completely their own thing. They even have their catchphrases, ones that only the elite Yorkites understand - when we hear Berwick’s dulcet northeast tones chime, “Me babbies, me bairns!” Christmas officially begins.
It’s not just Berwick who can create this magic either; he definitely lit a fire that so many were craving but also passes his flame to the incredible comedic Martin Barrass; our very own Stan Laurel, with the warmth of Ken Dodd and comedy timing of the late great Tommy Cooper; and to the effervescent Suzy Cooper; whose physical comedy and dance and professionalism take you back to the seventies and the golden age of comedy. And finally to the adorably hateable David Leonard - the villain we all love to boo, the Tim Curry to our darkest desires, whose feline smile creates such evocation of a pantomime baddy that he needs to be bottled and shared around a bit.
Basically, Berwick Kaler laid an egg that his incredible sidekicks hatched, and only time will tell whether they can continue without him. The signs are good and all these years working with him should have shown them how to continue.
This year’s Grand Old Dame of York is very much up to this panto’s usual brilliance, of course. Unwilling to give absolutely anything away, I will say you won’t be disappointed. It has its usual very current gags, this time delivered with a nostalgia for the show’s forty year stint (how incredible is that?!) - while the youngest of viewers can get their laughs from the painfully catchy Baby Shark song, the oldies can dance to the Spice Girls and references to Steptoe and Son: even cult musicals Little Shop of Horrors and Shock Treatment are referenced to kitsch effect… obviously different levels of “oldie” are covered there.
The show is an actual must, a piece of history in the making. Most importantly, I would like to thank Mr. Kaler; thank him for making me laugh every single year, thank him for bringing silliness to my Christmas and most importantly thank him for starting my festive season every single year. I, and many, will miss you greatly and you have created so much happiness in your forty year stint.
Onwards and upward though - York Theatre Royal, we have faith and can’t wait to see what you come back with. Merry Christmas all, I’m just going to sob into a Wagon Wheel.BOOK NOW