by Berwick Kaler.

Theatre Royal St Leonard’s Place YO1 7HD To 1 February 2014.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.

TICKETS: 01904 623568.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 December.

Party or panto, it’s still crazy after all these years.
“This isn’t a pantomime,” declares Dame Berwick Kaler early in this year’s Theatre Royal panto, “it’s a family reunion.” The point’s confirmed near the end when messages from the audience include one about a 40-year old who’s been coming regularly since she was five.

People return, knowing they’ll get what they expect, like the film inserts taken around York or the slapstick scene with people falling into a tank of water. There’s charming blonde Suzy Cooper, in her 21st pantomime “Aging well, isn’t she?” says Berwick in one of his regular comments on other cast members.

There’s Martin Barrass, trying hard, eager and puzzled as ever. And a lithe dancing and singing chorus (this may be the first pantomime to incorporate a Stephen Sondheim number).

But not David Leonard’s villain. Jonathan Race is excellent, knowing he only has to stand, black-bearded and grim-faced to hit the hiss factor high. Leonard, though, (gone legit, as lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago at Leicester) had a silkiness of voice and manner (‘stroke my evil fur,’ it seemed to say) and a stage rivalry, constructed over years, with Kaler. As in a family, it’s not being best, it’s being a member that counts, and membership takes time.

Yet, seeing this show in an audience of school parties fresh to the tradition emphasised how strange family rituals can seem to newcomers. Moments which, among audiences imbued in the tradition, would seem spontaneous leave the Dame with clearly planned responses to audience reactions that haven’t happened, while references echo round a largely unaware auditorium.

There’s colour and good humour for anyone. But after Kaler’s own 35 years here it might all be coming too cosy. And some of the material looks worn – “Me babbies, me bairns” (Kaler’s regular greeting) aren’t growing-up in the same world as those of 1978 and a song contest about pink and blue toothbrushes hardly relates to today’s world.

It’s worth seeing once, at least, for experience. And if you’re a regular you’ll probably have your pace booked precisely one month after this show closes in the ticket queue for the next.

Abanazar: Jonathan Race.
Wisehopper/Mankee Twankey: Martin Barrass.
Aladdin Twankey: Al Braatz.
Widow Twankey: Berwick Kaler.
Genie of the Bling: A J Powell.
Empress of all China: Siân Howard.
Princess Peek-a-Boo: Suzy Cooper.
Gene Genie, Ensemble: Harry Hughes.
Ensemble: Jake Lindsay, Danielle Mullan, Lauren Newton, Faye Spooner, James Tomlinson.
Young People: Oliver Fox, Rory Vince, Elise Tsang, Isabel-Grace Jatto, Olivia Probert-Bagley, Madeline Clifton/
Theo Steele, Harry Calam, Celestine Polledri, Charlotte Johnson, Madeleine Wood, Venus Scholes.

Directors: Berwick Kaler, Daman Cruden.
Designers: Phil R Daniels, Charles Cusick Smith.
Lighting: Richard G Jones.
Musical Director: Elliot Styche.
Choreographer: Michelle Blair.

2013-12-27 15:14:16

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