Panto star Suzy Cooper talks about her cancer scare, turning vegan and life outside the Theatre Royal institution with MAXINE GORDON

THEY say a week is a long time in politics – what about pantomime?
In the past few days, York’s much-loved Theatre Royal pantomime has been the talk of the town over fears this could be the last year of legendary dame Berwick Kaler’s long-running show. 
Berwick – who last year hung up his wigs and frocks after a 40-year run – has written and directed the current production, Sleeping Beauty, for the theatre with his usual “gang” – actors David Leonard, Martin Barrass, AJ Powell and principal girl Suzy Cooper.
But speculation is rife the theatre will take a new direction for the next festive show. Theatre bosses say they will make an announcement in February.
When we meet in her dressing room – a surprisingly messy and rundown affair in contrast to the theatre’s glitzy and modern public space – Suzy is fretting that this might be her last year in the panto – alongside the rest of the gang.
Suzy, who first joined the panto 27 years ago, said: “It’s hard to go out there singing and dancing knowing the carpet is being pulled from underneath you.”
But Suzy accepts it is the theatre's prerogative to choose its own path. "I love that theatre and I feel like I'm coming home every year. There's a bond, and I'd do anything for that place. I am so grateful to the theatre for all these years."
However, being an actor is hard – and Suzy admits she has no work lined up when the run of Sleeping Beauty ends on January 25.
“I am a worrier and being a self-employed person takes its toll. I don’t have any work coming up, I don’t know where the next pay cheque is coming from to pay my mortgage.”
Suzy practises yoga and found this helps “get out of my head and into my body”.
She is a qualified yoga teacher and has recently trained in Thai yoga massage – and now runs her own business offering one-to-one sessions with clients in London, where she lives with her husband, composer Christopher Madin, and their 11-year-old son Louis.

York Press:
Suzy with her son Louis and husband Christopher

The family also follow a vegan diet – which was something Suzy introduced after a cancer scare about seven years ago.
“I had a pre-cancerous condition diagnosed called lobular carcinoma in situ – LCIS – and it made me change my lifestyle,” she said.
The condition increases a person’s risk of developing invasive breast cancer later on in life, explained Suzy, who believes cutting out dairy and meat from her diet will help her prognosis. “I used to have a fridge full of cheese,” she admitted.
But adopting a plant-based eating regime has reaped health benefits for all the family, she says.
“Since coming off dairy, Louis’s eczema cleared up within ten days and he has not had an asthma attack since. It has also brought my husband’s cholesterol down.”
Last summer, all three members of the family worked together at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. 
While Christopher wrote the music, Louis played the drums as Macduff’s son, and Suzy starred as Lady Macbeth. So just a little bit different from playing the principal girl in panto at York – was it daunting?
“No, because every role is daunting,” says Suzy, who worked on the role with a dramaturge – a theatre consultant – to help explore the text and meaning of the language.
It was a great summer, says Suzy, with all three of the family being able to live at home in London and travel up to Blenheim for work.
But it too took a sour turn. The Shakespeare productions were supposed to head off off to Manila in the Philippines for a two-week tour – with Suzy in tow – but the plans were cancelled when North-Yorkshire-based promoters Lunchbox Theatrical Productions Ltd, based in Welburn, went into administration.
“They couldn’t take it out there and it was very sad,” says Suzy.
Despite all the uncertainty, Suzy remains bright and enthusiastic. 
She has a rigorous schedule with panto performances and weekend dashes home to London to see her family. She’s carrying some injuries too – a lump under her foot from dancing and a sore knee after a fall on stage. 
She says the aches and pains will settle once the panto has come to an end, but she just has to get through it for now.
She has form on this – one year she performed with a broken rib. “We call it doctor footlights – when you are on stage you are fine; as soon as you get off you are ill.” She says the smell of Ralgex is rife back stage as actors nurse their ailments and simply get on with the show.
As for this being the last panto – if it is the end, then she is genuinely sad. It is the end of an era, for her, the “gang”, the thousands of fans – and her own family, who spend Christmas in York with her because she has to perform over the festive holiday.
She says: “Already my son is asking that if I don’t do panto next year can we still go to York for Christmas.”
Ultimately, she is philosophical. If anything, her yoga has taught her to be more in the moment and be grateful for what she has. 
She says: “A lesson I learned late in life is that you have to keep looking out and up – and not look behind you. That is hard because I have so much to look back on. But I am very grateful and that is something my yoga has taught me to bring out in myself.”

Sleeping Beauty is running at York Theatre Royal until January 25. 
Tickets are available from