WHERE does York Theatre Royal go from here? To tinker after Kaler or soldier on?

Tom Bird, the executive director making gradual changes in his first year in post, is unequivocal, The show must go on, by which he means the pantomime, so important to the Theatre Royal’s financial wellbeing, must go on in the post-Kaler years.

First, however, he pays tribute to Dame Berwick. “It’s a really odd feeling, knowing Berwick is finishing as our dame, so what we’re doing this year is celebrating his achievements and what he’s done for the city and the enjoyment he’s given so many,” he says.

“We have to celebrate the phenomenon of Berwick Kaler in the pantomime in York, and what we’re doing is what we were always going to do to mark his 40th year, but his decision is all the more reason to celebrate that achievement.

“Berwick has been brilliant at dealing with all the physical demands of playing the dame as well as writing and co-directing the show, and he feels it’s the whole package that he’s understandably taking a back seat from now on.”

What will York Theatre Royal present next winter? A pantomime, or maybe take a different tack with a musical, a winter play, a comedy with Kaler’s fellow pantomime regulars, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and Martin Barrass, or an ice show?

York Press:

York Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird: "We will keep investing, and the traditions of the York Theatre Royal pantomime will live on," he says.

“I know the answer to that. A pantomime,” Tom says firmly. “We really, really believe in pantomime as an art form. We didn’t for a moment stop and think we should do something else as our Christmas show. We’re going to continue investing in our production values, the way we create the costumes and the set design, to make the ‘same old rubbish’. We will keep investing, and the traditions of the York Theatre Royal pantomime will live on.

“We want to keep the traditional staging posts too, so we ‘re planning to announce the next pantomime title on the last night; we’ll continue with tickets going on sale on March 1, with people arriving through the night to be first in the queue.  York Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird. Picture: Hannah Carter-Brown “We’re putting down the building blocks to continue in the way people always love it.

“Before that, the big thing for us is that people are bound to be having some sad feelings, and I don’t say this in a glib way, but I really feel this should be the spur to have a fabulous pantomime and for everyone to come together to celebrate everything Berwick has achieved.”

Can it be “the same old rubbish” without Dame Berwick, however? Already he has indicated he will not be writing the script once he exits the pantomime stage, so artistic director Damian Cruden must not only find a new dame but a writer too. Few combine the two skills; Berwick; Kenneth Alan Taylor at Nottingham Playhouse for many years, but no longer.

Damian Williams has been Sheffield Lyceum’s cherished dame for ten years, with a following to match Kaler, but he does not write the show. Chief executive David Bown and director Phil Lowe write a witty, magical script for Harrogate Theatre every year, but their loyalty surely lies there.  Or, maybeYork writers with a track record for successful shows, such as Mike Kenny, Hannah Davies or Alexander Flanagan Wright, in tandem, with Philip Grainger, could be attracted to a new challenge?

Really good pantomime writers are rare; so many other shows elsewhere truly are the same old rubbish, but Philip Meeks is one such talent. He has written plays performed at the Theatre Royal, such as Murder, Margaret And Me, and intriguingly, Twinkle Little Star, a one-man revenger’s comedy about a fading, embittered pantomime dame. Oh, and he happens to play dame too. Just saying!

As for the dame, does York Theatre Royal look to promote from within, switching the established team from their familiar roles, should they be agreeable, or should a new but familiar face come on board? Mark Addy? Andrew Dunn? Matthew Kelly?  Whatever, whoever, there are huge boots to be filled.