Pantomime: Sleeping Beauty
Venue: York Theatre Royal
Dates: Until Saturday, January 25, 2020
Review by: Julia Pattison
Berwick Kaler, York’s beloved Pantomime Dame, flew his final York panto mission last year, after an amazing 40 fabulous years.
He left with all cylinders firing, passing on the mantle to the “Family” Team at York Theatre Royal.
So it is with great regret that this reviewer (who has been attending York Theatre Royal pantos for many years, as a child, and an adult) has to say that Berwick would have done well to adhere to that old showbiz saying “always leave them wanting more”.
Tempting though it must have been to write and co-direct (with Matt Aston) this year’s show after his retirement, having seen the Press Night performance on 11th December I feel he would have been better off flying off into the sunset, putting his feet up for a well-earned rest, and trusting the “Family” to forge out their own Panto.
The set and costume designs by Anthony Lamble embraced extravagance, colour and flamboyance, and the show got off to a lively start with the musical ensemble number Oh What a Beauty. So far so good, and the music throughout the panto, directed by Elliot Styche was a delight to listen to.
Panto veteran Martin Barrass made his entry as Queen Ariadne to hearty cheers from the audience, with relative newcomer Jack Lansbury playing the King, and it looked set to be the usual “rubbish“ to enjoy.
Martin is a master of comedy, and has proved to be an expert over many pantos in gaining our sympathy as the Dame’s sidekick.
He made a masterful job of his role as Queen, but in all honesty, it didn’t really suit him. It didn’t help that there was a Spectre at the Feast too, as the writer and director Berwick should have been more generous with lines for “Family“, especially Martin. A reference to his time as Dame would have been fine, but Berwick appeared so many times either on film (oh dear, the less said about that the better, the filum used to be a highlight) or voicing skeletons, or on Baby Beauty’s face, that those of us who know and love him felt he might as well have been playing the Dame again this year.
For those in the audience who didn’t know him (I was sat next to a young lady who’d been brought for the first time by her boyfriend who was a Berwick fan) they must have wondered who on earth this person was – the young lady looked utterly bewildered at times.
The slapstick water scene was a joke… what a let-down.
Highlights of the show were scenes involving much-loved York Panto member David Leonard, who commanded the space as Evil Diva. Punk Strut with the Punk Strutters, Evil Diva and Punky the Flunky (Howie Michaels) was a fabulous opening number for Act 2, and more in keeping with the pantos we’ve come to know and love in York. A.J. Cooper as Darth Diva and Suzy Cooper (Princess Beauty) were on top form, but there was a definite lack of the ad-libbing we usually enjoy, perhaps that will evolve over the course of the panto run.
Bring back a Dame next year, and let’s see Martin back where he belongs, as the sidekick, to showcase the star he is.