Can there be one person in all York not familiar with Berwick Kaler’s pantomime? Just one. Me.
York Theatre Royal
Till Jan 28 2017; generally 7.30pm & 2.30pm matinees
As a result it took a while for me to adjust to the conventions and traditions everyone else has known forever. Writer, director and star, Berwick is York’s pantomime, so I am reluctant to raise my voice above the cheers.
The opening song (slickly performed) It’s a Pantomime! seemed to hold up the action somewhat, but, I found out later, that was the point. Kaler is performing for an audience who know and expect his set-pieces, most of which he has invented himself.
So we have the self-referential opening sequence featuring a meercat who became stuck with Berwick in a tent (last year’s show, Dick Wittington and his Meercat was performed under canvas at the NRM); the ad-libbing sequence in the opening scene; the mime and lighting sequence, this year highlighting pumpkins (of course, and very beautifully done it was.)
There were two film sequences, the first in the style of a ‘Carpool Karaoke’ and the second a Frankenstein-esque sequence featuring perennial panto favourite Harry Gration. This part left me nonplussed, as did the slapstick scene in the water tank, which, although it is another anticipated trope of Kaler’s, seemed shoehorned into the action.
Sharp and superb
Other ‘stolen’ ideas were inspired, however. You’ve Got to Get a Gimmick from Berwick as ugly sister Hernia, AJ Powell as Priscilla, the other ugly sister, and David Leonard as the Baroness, all desperate to be noticed and equally outrageous, was superb.
There is a Great Royal Bake-Off before the ball, which develops into The Makers of the Sandwiches song – very sharp. Likewise the I’m Worth It number from Dimdini and his Equerry (Jake Lindsey and Jack Landsbury).
Here the references to selfies and Snapchat seemed right as well as funny – for a moment we could almost have had young modern royals on stage!
Special mention has to be made of Hermione Lynch who was thoroughly engaging as Prince Charming and David Leonard as the delightfully wicked Baroness van Naff. Everyone loves a villain, and we all loved him.
Suzy Cooper made the perfect Cinderella. This is a cast who truly ‘fit’ – they are a stage family who know each other’s every move. There wasn’t an unsynchronised step or a mistimed musical moment.
The love that came from the audience throughout the evening was palpable. Everyone is immersed in everything the night stands for. The local place names, the song sheet, messages read out at the end, all this made the audience as vital to the event as the actors.
The most moving moment had to be the appearance of Martin Barrass on stage at the very end, seriously injured last year in a traffic accident.
Famous for playing Berwick Kaler’s stage son, he took his bow next to his ‘father’, who was dressed as a giant golden chandelier! Not a dry eye, anywhere.
Tour de force
The music (by Rob Castell) was of the highest standard, as were the sets and costumes, by Mark Walters. I loved Cinderella’s friendly mice and the palace clock, counting down the minutes to midnight. Having the ‘young’ Cinderella, Hernia and Priscilla appear at the beginning was an unusual creative twist and a lovely moment.
If I am allowed a favourite scene, it was Cinderella’s cellar, but the appearance of her carriage was the design tour-de-force of the night. I won’t give any more away, except to say that there was a change to the usual animal assistants, as you would expect.
The run is just beginning and I am a newcomer to York’s unique pantomime tradition, so like some of the young ones in the audience, I felt slightly overwhelmed.
The show will develop and change (it is famous for doing so) becoming even more hilariously knowing as the run continues. Come and see Cinderella for the unique phenomenon that it is. You will be charmed.