Berwick Kaler celebrates his 40th year in the lead role at York Theatre Royal’s Christmas panto and he was joined for the first day of rehearsals today by his trusty support cast of long-serving regulars, sidekick Martin Barrass, principal boy Suzy Cooper and villain David Leonard.
West Midlands actor AJ Powell also returns, with Jake Lindsay stepping out of the ensemble to join the regular cast for a production that, in honour of Kaler, is fittingly titled The Grand Old Dame of York.
Between them, the cast has clocked up an exhaustive 100 years on stage at the York panto.
Kaler and the theatre’s artistic director Damian Cruden co-direct the show, with Mr Cruden’s own involvement now stretching back 21 years.
Much-loved by audiences who return year after year for its comic capers - including the customary throwing of Wagon Wheel biscuits from the stage - Mr Cruden teased that the latest production would not disappoint the panto’s legion of fans.
“Once again we await any sign of a plot for our ensemble of actors to get to grips with but we know that after 40 years of service our dame fully intends upon maintaining standards set over the years, so we will all still be wondering at the end of the night, just what did happen?” Mr Cruden japed.
After playing villains in commercial pantomimes, Kaler first donned a wig and frock for Cinderella, playing one of the Ugly Sisters, Philomena, in York Theatre Royal’s 1977 panto.
Looking ahead to another year under the spotlights, the actor said: “For 40 years the panto team and I have shared laughter with the most loyal audience on the planet.
“To this day I haven’t a clue where we went right!”
This year’s ensemble is led once again by Danielle Mullan. He will be joined by returning members Scott Wallace, Charleigh Webb and Cameron MacDonald, as well as newcomers Joseph Poulton and Autumn Draper.
The Grand Old Dame of York opens at York Theatre Royal on Thursday, December 13 and will run until Saturday, February 2.