BERWICK Kaler may have exited pantomime stage left in February, but the grand old dame of York Theatre Royal is taking up the call to write the script for Sleeping Beauty this coming winter.

"When I said on the last night, 'if they ask me, I'll be back like a shot', what I really meant was I'd be back on stage like a shot," said the newly retired dame. "But this is more like an air rifle shot, because the 'rubbish' I write, whatever it is, is rather unique in as much as the artists I've groomed for the Theatre Royal panto, the artists I've shared my career with, to me they are the best team going, and they don't want to take the risk of anyone else writing for them."

Consequently, Dame Berwick will continue his 40-year association with the Theatre Royal pantomime after hanging up the dame's boots and red and yellow leggings following The Grand Old Dame Of York.

David Leonard, Martin Barrass, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell, who have a combined 98 years of Theatre Royal panto service between them, have signed up for Sleeping Beauty's run from the newly earlier starting date of December 7 to January 25.

"They have been part of whole decades of our pantomime and you can't just separate everybody from that and expect the audience to take it," said Berwick. "You have to move it on, but my thing is that I want to move it on in the right the point where I can live long enough that it has nothing there to do with me any more but that there is a legacy. You can't just say, 'oh right, we'll now get someone else to write it, someone else to direct it'."

Looking back on his decision to call time on his damehood at 72, he said: "I wanted to retire from playing the dame, and OK, I regretted that decision from the first performance in December because I realised what this 'rubbish' means to the people of York, but there were other reasons that I can't go into that meant it was impossible for me to go on.

"I didn't want to go into the gutter with it, I didn't want to fail. Last year was never meant to be my last one, but a celebration of 40 years, which it was."

The Theatre Royal pantomime is in his blood, his health is in good fettle after his double heart bypass in the summer of 2017, and Sleeping Beauty is stirring his creative juices already. "To be honest, I have more ideas than I know what to do with." he enthused.

Sleeping Beauty has no dame – Berwick had to invent a role for himself in the 1994 and 2004 productions – but the villainous David Leonard is tipped to play the evil witch role of Maleficent, bringing back memories of his Miss Trunchbull in Matilda in the West End.

As for who will direct Sleeping Beauty, watch this space.

Charles Hutchinson