Britain’s longest-serving pantomime dame Berwick Kaler is back once again to entertain the eager Christmas crowd gathered at the York Theatre Royal. Over the decades, the actor has created a seasonal institution and one that is part of many families annual Christmas traditions. And, as is tradition, Kaler delivers the expected, yet still hilarious off-the-cuff quips and good-natured nonsense in his multiple outlandish costumes.
Joining Kaler on stage are familiar favourites and long-standing cast members Martin Barrass as Stanley Manley, returning after his near-death motorcycle accident last year; ‘thwarted’ villain David Leonard as Dr McCarb with hip thrusts aplenty and Suzy Cooper playing Jill. Another welcome returnee is AJ Powell as everyone’s’ favourite Brummie playing Jack, boasting some strong vocals throughout.
The opening of the show introduces us to the majority of the cast, ensemble and youths lighting up the stage with Not Just for Kids Anymore; certainly appropriate for this audience. This is a family pantomime; however, adults win the majority seats. Kalers’ entrance, set to the fitting instrumental of Nothing Like a Dame, rouses the audience to applause and cheer. Typically Kaler, the comedy thrown at regular glitches is often but perhaps wears a little thin by the end.
The ensemble provide some of the real theatrical highlights of the show during some of the musical numbers. The tap dancing during Extraordinary was impeccable, supported by Powells’ vocal and When You’re an Addams boasts a wealth of musically trained talent. Some of the comedy musical numbers include Auf Wiedersehen Pat with Kaler as Mandy singing to his cow, Pat and Wild Thing sung by McCarb and Jill.
The set is, as ever, an enchanted fairytale-like wonderland, catching your eye throughout with lights and sparkle along with the vibrant, colourful and plentiful costumes, credit to Mark Walters. The music and arrangement by Elliot Styche is appropriate and atmospheric. Choreography by Grace Harrington complements the talented ensemble and utilises the space fully. Regulars to the annual pantomime will not be disappointed.
Residents of York will know what to expect, but newcomers may be a bit mystified by the twists and additions to the storyline; the story of Jack and his enchanted Bean runs throughout this show taking some ever unusual twists and turns. A cinematic video interlude follows Kaler and Barrass being chased around York by Storm Troopers from Star Wars, before being chewed up and spat out by Harry Gration from Look North; a scene that will either leave you with the same feeling you get every year from your annual York pantomime or one that leaves you wondering what on earth has just occurred.