Jack and the Beanstalk
THE fact that Berwick Kaler has spent the last 32 winters dressing as a woman for York Theatre Royal’s annual panto is impressive enough. The fact that he still appears to enjoy every minute of it, even more so.
The York panto doesn’t follow the usual formula, and the traditional mix of out-ofwork soap stars and obscure children’s TV presenters are conspicuous only by their absence.
Instead, Kaler has a regular cast who when they are not in panto can be found starring in Harold Pinter plays and working with the English Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s this kind of talent which marks York’s annual show out from the rest.
This year it’s an irreverent take on Jack and the Beanstalk, involving a Martian invasion, a homage to Laurel and Hardy and possibly the best impression of BBC’s Look North presenter Christa Ackroyd you’re ever likely to see.
There is no sense to the plot, but that’s where the charm of the York Theatre Royal panto lies.
The audience aren’t particularly bothered about seeing the guy get the girl or the villain banished in the end. What they are really waiting for is the scene where Kaler’s sidekick, Martin Barrass, gets a soaking.
Like Kaler, the rest of the cast are simply the best. David Leonard as Nastridamus is as always the perfect villain. He just seems to get better with age. Suzy Cooper brings much needed humour to the role of principal boy and Barrass, a man who never tires of slapstick, is the perfect foil for Kaler’s Dame.
However, this isn’t quite a vintage year for York and some judicious editing is needed. They could start by losing the Shirley Bassey number which falls horribly flat and for anyone who has never been to the panto before the in-jokes could do with pruning.
All that said, Kaler takes his panto seriously and whatever the flaws, this is still one of the best shows you’re likely to see this Christmas. head to the Grand Opera House.
The reputedly 1,000-year-old rags to riches tale of Cinderella fits beautifully into the chocolate box surroundings.
From the moment the curtain rises, this production oozes with vitality, energy and a magic that spills over the footlights, leaving young audience members transfixed until the final curtain.
The costumes are lavish, sets storybook-like but, above all, it has an air of nostalgia and it’s packed with endless opportunities for audience participation, which is what a good panto should be all about.
The jokes may have whiskers on, “I’ve just been for a tramp in the woods but he got away”, there’s the “it’s behind you” ghost gag, the false leg at the slipper trying, in fact all the things synonymous with the great British pantomime, in Cinderella.
Sunday night’s performance saw understudy Andrew Fitch playing the role of Buttons – and giving one of the best performances of the character I have seen over the last few decades.
He has boundless energy, excellent comedy timing and in the “Do you love me Cinders?” scene, he brought out the loveable warmth of the character skillfully coupled with pathos.
In pantoland this young man should go far and if they have any sense, theatre managers should be queuing up to sign him for next year’s productions.
As Prince Charming, Jason Lee Scott has the stage personality, looks and singing voice that blends perfectly with Suzanne Carley’s sweet-voiced and pretty Cinders, while understudy Samuel Cook brought a suave new look to Dandini.
Milkshake’s Jen Pringle is a warm, appealing and believable fairy, with veteran comedian Syd Little plodding his way through as Baron Hardup alongside his formidable dragon wife Lisa Riley.
As the uglies, Paul Critchlow (Buttercup) and Sean Luckham (Daisy) are bold, brash, bordering on the grotesque and sufficiently wicked, however losing a wig (I suspect as part of a cod-dry – where the audience think it’s an accident but it’s not) was a little selfindulgence, which for some kids totally destroyed the evening’s magical illusion.
BEHIND YOU: Billy Pearce heads the cast of Bradford Alhambra’s with Kelly Chinery as Snow White.