Review: Sleeping Beauty, York Theatre Royal

This was always going to be a tricky year for York Theatre Royal’s panto. Last January, veteran dame Berwick Kaler bowed out after more than 40 years’ service and his loyal fans wondered whether the rest of the regulars could carry on the show without him.

Sleeping Beauty at York Theatre Royal is the venue's first panto without veteran dame Berwick Kaler for 40 years. Picture by Robling Photography.
Sleeping Beauty at York Theatre Royal is the venue's first panto without veteran dame Berwick Kaler for 40 years. Picture by Robling Photography.

The jury is sadly still out.

While Kaler might not be on stage this winter, he continues to write the annual panto and thanks to various cameo appearances, via video footage, he still looms large like the Ghost of Christmas Past.

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Maybe that’s the problem. This production could have announced an exciting new era for the Theatre Royal, but instead it feels as though it has one foot welded in the past and well, rather ordinary.

Newcomer Howie Michaels in Sleeping Beauty. Picture by Robling Photography.

It’s not all boos and hisses. As ever, David Leonard strides out as an assured panto villain and together with Brummie side-kick AJ Powell as Darth Diva and a scene-stealing quartet of youngsters, they deliver most of the belly laughs.

Kaler’s old side-kick Martin Barrass steps into the Dame’s shoes, although with a significantly reduced wardrobe budget, and while his usual energetic fizz appears to have been a little dampened he remains an audience favourite.

This is a cast which oozes talent and maybe, just maybe, they would have been better served if the pause button had been pressed on the panto and the theatre had tried a different kind of Christmas show, one where Kaler wasn’t so obviously a missing piece of the jigsaw.

Let’s just call this the panto equivalent of the difficult second album and hope come 2020, the cast are all back to their brilliant best.

To January 25, yorktheatreroyal.co.uk