Friday, January 09, 2009


York Theatre Royal

The more pantos I see, the more I'm convinced that the Dame is the touchstone. Among my favourites: Cyril Fletcher, often with his other half Betty Astell, and the legendary Jack Tripp, once described by the Stage as "the John Gielgud of pantomime dames", lured out of retirement by Roy Hudd. Both had the confidence and absolute belief in the genre and their unique role in it.

The same could surely be said for Berwick Kaler, who's been climbing into the seasonal skirts for 30 years at York's lovely old Theatre Royal.

This year he was Betty in his own take on the Dick Turpin tale. “Me babbies, me bairns ....” he beamed in greeting to the capacity crowd. And we were off through a nostalgic panto trip through ancient jokes [“Have you got the scrolls ...?”] and time-honoured routines – the messy scene, with the plunge pool and the dough-based recipe, the sing-along, the UV sequence, the filmed insert. No smut, no soap stars, no desperate up-dating. Though we did have a Woolies joke, and the Congestion Charge featured in the London cloth, together with a half-timbered Houses of Parliament and wooden Eye.

Cultural references, some too local for my Southern ear, came thick and fast. Alma Cogan, Housewives' Choice, Ready Steady Cook, Eurovision. No dumbing down here. I particularly enjoyed the drag Abba act, the flames in Goth York City, the Old York, Old York, number, sung in six languages, with a trumpet obbligato from a hard-working pit player who also played sax !

Kaler, brilliant in all his scenes, with countless quick-changes and wide eloquent eyes, was joined by regular partners in crime David Leonard, thwarted again as Vermin de Vile, and Martin Barrass as the dopey sidekick. And the Waggon Wheel for the biggest gob in the house was won that Thursday by Morgan in the stalls.

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