‘A reboot is necessary’: New Theatre Royal pantomime will feature ‘spectacular sets and lots of local talent’

The York Theatre Royal panto regulars joke about missing Berwick before the start of rehearsals for Sleeping Beauty. Photograph: Richard McDougall

‘The current pantomime garners a huge amount of affection amongst some residents, but that affection has, over the last decade, stopped translating into mass appeal.’

The words of Tom Bird, executive director of York Theatre Royal.

In a report to City of York Council, he explained why “with a very heavy heart, we have had to take the decision that our pantomime must change in order for it to survive and thrive”.


He reiterated that panto ticket sales have been in decline since 2008 – with the exception of Berwick Kaler’s last pantomime as dame in 2018:

  • 2008 – 54,190 people saw Dick Turpin
  • 2013 – 47,419 people saw Aladdin and the Twankeys
  • 2017 – 42,153 people saw Jack and the Beanstalk
  • this year – around 31,000 will see Sleeping Beauty.

‘Please do something new’

David Leonard and Suzy Cooper in Sleeping Beauty at York Theatre Royal. Photograph: Anthony Robling
Sleeping Beauty was written and co-directed by Berwick Kaler, and although he had retired from his familiar role as dame, the rest of the gang – David Leonard, Martin Barrass, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell – all returned.

But the returns at the Box Office weren’t good enough, Tom said – although some theatregoers blamed a hike in prices for the slump in sales.


“We were also aware than pantomimes in some other cities smaller than York (but not dissimilar) were welcoming nearer 90,000 people, while we were welcoming a third of that number,” Tom writes. He adds:

  • At some point 40 years ago, the Theatre Royal called time on a previous pantomime and said to Berwick Kaler, ‘please do something new’. And Berwick created something extraordinary that lasted 41 years.

    We have reached the moment when a similar reboot is necessary.

    We believe passionately in pantomime as a form of traditional Christmas entertainment, and will create in 2020 a brand new pantomime for York, featuring lots of local talent, community involvement and spectacular sets and costumes.

    The details of this will be announced early February 2020.

The council is set to invest £500,000 in the theatre to improve the “accessibility and sustainability of their premises” in next year’s budget.

The report is presented to the children, education & communities policy & scrutiny committee on
Tuesday (28 January) at 5.30pm.

Additional reporting: Chloe Laversuch, local democracy reporter