Panto row leads to theatre split

A major row between York’s Theatre Royal and its venerable pantomime star Berwick Kaler means there will be two pantos vying for audiences this Christmas.

Kaler, pictured, who has been involved with the theatre’s annual panto for 40 years, has agreed to move his show to the rival Grand Opera House and has taken his troupe of regulars with him.

The move follows a decision by Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird to relieve Kaler of his writing and directing duties following a drop in audiences.

Kaler, who is 73, had been the driving force behind a successful pantomime at the theatre for decades, since donning the Dame costume in 1977.

But after a series of health scares, he had decided to retire from acting, concentrating on writing and directing the show, which had won critical acclaim for its adherence to traditional panto themes and dedication to a fiercely local York audience.

But critics were lukewarm about this year’s show and Bird revealed that he was planning major changes as a result of falling ticket sales.

Panto regulars Martin Barrass and Suzy Cooper, who had been associated with the panto for many years, waded into the row, claiming that they had been dropped from the show.

Then Kaler said he wanted to come out of retirement and has announced a deal with ATG, which owns the Grand Opera House, and Qdos, Britain’s biggest pantomime production company.

“Qdos Entertainment have come to the rescue of the most lauded pantomime in the country having found us a new home at the Grand Opera House in our beloved City of York,” he said. “We can go forth with a management that believes we have enhanced the reputation of a local pantomime.”

Meanwhile, York Theatre Royal is partnering with Evolution, a company which already produces a successful panto in Sheffield to stage Cinderella over Christmas 2020. The theatre’s associate director Juliet Forster, will direct.

“We are over the moon to be creating a spectacular new pantomime for the people of York - one that’s tailor-made for the whole family while honouring the pantomime traditions that our audiences love so much,” said Bird. “This phenomenal team will give the York Theatre Royal pantomime a new lease of life with a fresh, family-friendly, fun-filled approach to the story of Cinderella. It’s a pantomime for the new decade, set with pride in our amazing city.”

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