Dick Turpin: The Panto

Berwick Kaler
York Theatre Royal
(2008)

Production photo

The infamous Berwick Kaler, Pantomime Dame extraordinaire, celebrates 30 years gracing the York Theatre Royal stage with his delightful quips, outlandish dresses and undeniable Wearside style. Not to mention everyone's favourite 'thwarted' baddie, David Leonard, who also marks a milestone in York panto this year with his 21st anniversary. This is truly a night to commemorate and the energetic and ever smiling cast of Dick Turpin do just that.

To mark these anniversaries, Kaler has produced a new panto based on the legendary Highwayman, Dick Turpin, who rides his beloved horse Black Bess from London to York to escape the law and the evil machinations of Count Vermin De Vile. However, that's really about as far as I and my companions got with following the plot, as it then takes such hairpin corners on the Flights-of-Fancy Road that it becomes a bit of pantomime plot on acid. Fear not, York Pantomime Lovers! the traditional ingredients of the water scene, the song sheet, the UV lit scene in the dark, the wagon wheels, Berwick's fabulous frocks, a couple of Newcastle Brown Ales, David Leonard's pelvic thrusts and Martin Barrass' skipping are all there. However we also manage to catch up with some dancing leprechauns, a strong-smelling policeman, an Abba medley and a talent contest along the way which apparently has something to do with Dick Turpin.

Does it matter? Not a bit. As Berwick says. "Can you feel the love tonight?", as he bottles the audience's love (for his pension - yes, really) which is freely flowing round the room. And it truly is, for there is not an audience member in the house that doesn't celebrate every minute of this mad 'rubbish', and the applause at the end is every bit heartfelt. After all, how can you go wrong after you've seen a tap dancing horse? It's pantomime gold.

There are also a host of familiar faces back to support Berwick and company. While Leonard makes it to 21 shows to date, Barrass is already on his 23rd and Suzy Cooper is back for her 14th year in the line up, after having a year off to have her first child. Vincent Gray (Berwick's nephew) returns as the handsome robber, Dick Turpin. Julie Ann Castro played Princess Donna Kebab last year and fits in as Sheila Shipton this year. Another highly welcome returnee is A J Powell as everyone's favourite Brummie who plays PC Clod Hopper in fetching stripy tights. Even the barking crocodile is back to keep up with tradition.

As ever the sets are fantastical with some seriously detailed back drops depicting York as a Gothic paradise, London seen through the eyes of the ever-creative pantomime design team, and a scene in local pub The Three Legged Mare which requires some seriously speedy cross dressing on Berwick's part. As ever the costumes are gorgeous, and you can't help but laugh not only at the corny jokes but also at Leonard's fabulous judge's sweeping coat. The courtroom scene as a whole really is a lot of fun.

While the York audience needs no encouragement to go and see it, newcomers might be a bit mystified by the ever daring plot twists. However if you are a first-timer, you need not worry but turn to the person next to you, who will no doubt have been to the York panto for the last twenty odd years and will quite happily recount this plot and probably the nineteen before, such is the feeling of community spirit. As Berwick Kaler lets us know, the York pantomime is to be recorded for the V&A museum, but while this show might already have gone down in history, it's far more fun to see it in the flesh. Buy your tickets now.

Reviewer: Cecily Boys