York pantomime to switch to rival venue due to growing tensions over ticket sales

Berwick Kaler (left) taking part in the pantomime at York Theatre Royal in 2018.
Berwick Kaler (left) taking part in the pantomime at York Theatre Royal in 2018.
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A simmering row over the success of the latest production of one of the country’s most popular pantomimes will see next year’s show switch to a rival venue in a Yorkshire city.

Theatre bosses at the Grand Opera House in York confirmed today that they will host the pantomime this festive season - marking the return to the stage for Berwick Kaler, who was the UK’s longest running pantomime dame up until his retirement in February last year.

The pantomime will end its long-standing association with York Theatre Royal after growing tensions had emerged due to dwindling ticket sales.

Mr Kaler will be re-united with fellow veteran cast members including Martin Barrass, Suzy Cooper and David Leonard for the debut at the Grand Opera House with a production called Dick Turpin Rides Again.

Mr Kaler yesterday issued a call for support from the pantomime’s loyal following, and said: “To make this a success we need you – the most articulate and loyal audience in the entire country.”

Managers at York Theatre Royal have revealed no showing of the pantomime sold out during its latest run, except for the final night on Sunday.

And the theatre’s executive director, Tom Bird, said the venue will “build a new pantomime for the city that doesn’t rely on you having been to the pantomime for 30 years to get it”.

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He confirmed that an announcement about the future of the pantomime will be made early next week, adding he did not believe ticket price was a factor for declining sales as no off-peak shows were sold out.

This year’s production of Sleeping Beauty was the first since Mr Kaler retired after first performing at the theatre in 1977.

A spokesman said there had been a steady decline in ticket sales since 2008 when 55,000 were sold for a production of Dick Turpin. According to the spokesman, 48,152 tickets were sold in 2012, 46,921 in 2015, 44,677 in 2016 and 42,153 in 2017.

There was a spike last year when 49,000 tickets were sold for Mr Kaler’s farewell performances. But the theatre said this year’s sales were down to just 30,000 – a claim that has been contested by the former pantomime dame.

Mr Kaler, who wrote and directed the production of Sleeping Beauty, has been vocal in his support for the cast, and admitted retiring from starring in the pantomime has been the “biggest mistake” of his career.