DANCER and musical actor Joseph Poulton is a "proud Yorkie happy to be back in his hometown performing for family and friends", as he says in his programme profile.

Joseph, originally a ballet dancer, is making his Theatre Royal pantomime debut in the ensemble for Berwick Kaler's farewell 40th show, The Grand Old Dame Of York, until February 2.

"I saw Old Mother Milly, the Millennium panto, in December 1999, and though I can't remember anything in particular apart from a lady singing, which might have been Suzy [Cooper], I do remember being taken and being entranced by it," says Joseph of his first childhood encounter with Dame Berwick's panto world. "It's good to come full circle now, coming back to York, where I started dancing, and spending time with my family over Christmas."

Joseph has performed in such West End shows as Cats and The Lion King, as well as in The Wind In The Willows at West Yorkshire Playhouse and in the film Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again, and he was keen to add another string to his bow by making his panto debut.

" I'd never done panto but was intrigued to do it, so I suggested it to my agent, Hall James Personal Management., who look after many West End dancers," Joseph recalls.

He landed an audition for York Theatre Royal's show and was delighted to be selected. "The panto's good; the money's good; and I like the fact that everyone gets the chance to contribute and shine," says Joseph. "It's been a really positive, eye-opening experience. I wasn't snobbish about pantomime, but I'd concentrated on dance and musical theatre in the West End.

"Panto is very under-rated in the West End but doing this show has taught me a lot about stamina, doing 12 shows a week. I'm doing panto because I wanted to encourage my other skills rather than just dancing: the singing, the acting, honing my skills of comic timing."

Even the ensemble dancing is diverse, stretching his repertoire. "It's challenging, with hip-hop and salsa in there, and that's good," he says. "At no point did I want to be 'I'm Joseph from the West End'. I was the one asking questions."

Joseph had branched out from classical ballet at the age of 20, when he was starting his second year with Ballet Black but auditioned for Cats, a show he had loved since childhood. "It was a natural step to go for it as Gillian Lynne's choreography was very balletic; Cats is jazzy ballet with poems!" he says.

"I turned out to be good at musical theatre though it's rare that you can cross over from ballet to jazz and tap. I wanted to do more than ballet: to speak, to sing on stage, be camp on stage; to be more than a piece of music being 'physicalised' . I wanted to play characters.

"With ballet there's always a hierarchy, but with musical theatre, if you're good enough, you'll get the part. So when I did Mr Mistoffelees in Cats, I had the right look, the right dancing, the right training, but I'll never regret going to ballet school. It set me up for life; it's given me technique, drive and lessons in discipline and punctuality."

Charles Hutchinson