by Rachel Hazelwood
Part of the enduring appeal of the Theatre Royal (and a Berwick Kaler-penned panto) is the avoidance of TV stars and celebs, which means the focus remains on the whole ensemble rather than any one individual.
The humour of this year’s ‘piece of rubbish’ remains sharp but stays away from being too racy - the balance is just right for this perennial family friendly festival of fun. It’s a small ensemble but they work well together, the hours of rehearsal evident in the fault-free footwork and catchy harmonies. They bounce off each other both in terms of energy and keeping the sometimes flat script lively and engaging for an audience of die hard fans from grannies to grandchildren, full of Christmas jumpers and big smiles.
The jokes are topical and up to the minute as Martin Barrass takes up the mantle of Panto Dame: these are some mighty big shoes to fill and Berwick Kaler casts a large, long and lasting shadow but the audience rose to the occasion and cheered Martin on at every opportunity.
Berwick himself features unexpectedly a number of times - something the enduring and loyal fans of the Theatre Royal panto will love and despite Berwick’s absence, they stick with a tried and tested formula, nods to the audience, crowd participation and old favourites like Wagon Wheels thrown at the crowd, which will reassure those who look forward to particular moments from pantos past.
David Leonard is reliably and reassuringly professional and a joy to watch: he owns the stage and carries the weight of much of the panto on his experienced shoulders. The only disappointment was a number called ‘Man Up’ which felt tone deaf to the times we’re living in, outdated and misplaced. So while the script does fall flat in the first half - which feels stretched and overlong - the pace picks up after the interval. The story may not quite hang together but many would argue that isn’t the point of panto: the point is to enjoy the music, the magic and mayhem and be carried along for the ride.
As this is a period of transition for the Berwick Kaler panto, the Dame continues to be a huge presence with his script and co-directing role, and the excellent Martin Barrass tries his hardest to fill Berwick’s shoes. Perhaps a few more pantos under his belt are needed before everyone feels completely comfortable with the change.
Sleeping Beauty is at York Theatre Royal until Saturday 24 Jan 2020. Buy tickets below.BOOK NOW