Monthly Archives: January 2020

The Grand Old Dame Of York 2020



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Grand Opera House are delighted to announce York legend Berwick Kaler will be bulk-buying Wagon Wheels, dusting off his frocks and making his much-anticipated, triumphant return to pantomime to star in Dick Turpin Rides Again this Christmas!

The star of pantomime in York for 40 years, Berwick’s critically acclaimed performance as dame has solidified his reputation as a true York institution having delighted generations of festive theatre goers every year, winning rave reviews from critics and audiences taking him to their hearts. Dick Turpin Rides Again marks his first pantomime at the Grand Opera House.

Dick Turpin Rides Again also reunites Berwick with his band of pantomime regulars, including comedy side-kick Martin Barrass, the villainous David Leonard, Yorkshire’s longest-serving Principal Girl Suzy Cooper and favourite funny man AJ Powell. Berwick will also write and direct the production.

Berwick Kaler

This year’s Grand Opera House pantomime will be produced by Scarborough and London based Qdos Entertainment for the very first time, the world’s biggest pantomime producer, and the Olivier Award winning team behind pantomimes across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and at the world famous London Palladium each Christmas. Dick Turpin Rides Again will feature Qdos Entertainment’s hallmark of high-quality production values and special effects, whilst staying faithful to Berwick’s renowned approach to the genre and to local York audiences.

Qdos Entertainment Managing Director Michael Harrison said: I have long admired Berwick’s pantomimes – in fact his own brand of pantomime madness was the inspiration behind the shows I have created at both Newcastle Theatre Royal and The London Palladium. Little did I realise when I was watching Berwick’s shows that one day I’d be able to work with him and his team on a York pantomime.

This deal has come together very quickly between Berwick, Martin, David, Suzy, AJ, ourselves and the Grand Opera House because first and foremost we all love pantomime – and what a panto this one is going to be. I couldn’t be happier to be able to announce that Dick Turpin will indeed ride again as will Berwick and his legendary team.”

Qdos Entertainment Chairman, Scarborough based Nick Thomas MBE, added, “I am thrilled to welcome Berwick, a true Yorkshire theatre legend, to the Qdos Family. Qdos Entertainment has had a long association with Yorkshire, it is my home county, and with our production and wardrobe teams based in Scarborough and Beverley, forming this new relationship with Berwick and the Grand Opera House is especially exciting”.


Having made his York pantomime debut as Ugly Sister in Cinderella in 1977, Berwick has performed, written and directed panto in the city ever since, calling out his iconic catchphrase ‘me babbies, me bairns’ and met with adoration from local audiences at every performance.

A star of the stage since he left his native Sunderland as a teenager, Berwick has been a mainstay in theatre ever since, appearing in London’s West End and regionally, making television appearances in iconic comedies such as The New Statesman and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and even featuring in the Hollywood blockbuster A Knight’s Tale. In 2012 he was featured in Michael Grade’s acclaimed documentary A History of the Pantomime Dame, which was aired on BBC Four.


Speaking on his casting Berwick Kaler said: “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. To make this a success we need you – the most articulate and loyal audience in the entire country. We can go forth with a management that believes we have enhanced the reputation of a local pantomime that has caught the imagination of young and old, from all walks of life.”

Grand Opera House York’s Theatre Director, Rachel Crocombe-Lane, adds: ‘Qdos brings both worldclass expertise and also a Yorkshire heart, being based in Scarborough; the perfect combination together with this talented cast. As a venue team, Pantomime is our favourite time of year because of the friendship with the company and also the joy and devotion of our audience. We are proud of these new partnerships, excited for the future of our Pantomime and will be ready altogether to really blow your Christmas socks off!’

Dick Turpin Rides Again will play at Grand Opera House from Saturday 12 December until Sunday 10 January 2021, with tickets going on sale for ATG Theatre Card holders from Tuesday 11 February, and on sale generally from Friday 14 February. Berwick Kaler will be making a personal appearance at the theatre Box Office as it goes on sale at 10am, and will sell the first tickets to the show.







Cardiff New Theatre Memories


Recent news was that HQ Theatres, a division of Qdos have taken a 25 year lease on The New Theatre Cardiff!. This beautiful 110 year old building seats around 1,144  and for twenty years has been the home of a Qdos pantomime.

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It was at “The New” that Peter Robbins and I had a wonderful season in “Cinderella” in 1990 with Windsor Davies and Dame Hilda Bracket (Patrick Fyffe) that transferred to Leeds Grand , and carried on through February.

As a Swansea lad my theatre jobs were in Cardiff from the 1970’s- I did plays at “The New” and childrens shows, including “Toad Of Toad Hall” , directed by Martin Williams, the manager who sadly died a young man, and left a legacy of splendid shows produced “in house” there. I worked at The Sherman Theatre, and The Open Air Theatre,The WNO Drama Company, and Chapter Arts, but it was the splendid New Theatre that was the jewel in Cardiff’s crown and at that time home of the Welsh National Opera.

The most recent Qdos Panto “Cinderella” finished on 12th January 2020.



Here are just a few random posters of previous Pantomimes at Cardiff.


Recently the Facebook site “Pantoland” featured some photographs that Mike Chalmers took of past productions framed backstage and front of house at the Theatre. I am very grateful for his permission to repeat these snapshots here. Sadly the collection of “Finale” photos is incomplete, but hopefully more will be discovered an added as FOH is refurbished soon.

Here they are  – There are familiar faces I can spot, and I wonder how many you can recognise!I’ve just jotted a few names down from memory!Please feel free to add to the faces by email to should you wish!

Mike Doyle appears as Dame is very many of these Pantomimes, joining the local Dames and Sisters who played The New, including Wyn Calvin, Ceri DuPree, myself, (Nigel Ellacott) and adopted local Dames, like Ronne Coyles.





Samantha Womack, Gareth Thomas, Chico, Mike Doyle, Tam Ryan, Stephanie Webber


David Hasslehoff, Mike Doyle


Gareth Thomas, Ian H Watkins, Linda Lusardi, Mike Doyle,Sam Kane, Mark Llewellyn Evans & Holly Bluett


Lee Mead. Linda Lusardi, Gareth Thomas (and Colm Tracey u/s) Andy Jones, Mike Doyle, Sam Kane, Holly Bluett.


Julian Clary, Mike Doyle


Joe Pasquale. Ceri DuPree



Brian Conley, Dawson Chance, Brian Godfrey




Lesley Joseph


John Barrowman



Danny La Rue & Dave Benson Phillips.

There is a gap of unframed pictures- here is 1984


Stu Francis, Anna Karen


1983 the hugely lavish Humpty Dumpty: Keith Harris, Ronne Coyles as Dame.



1980 Dickie Henderson.


Roy Hudd.


The Stan Stennett Years- almost a repertory company of familiar faces.





1973 Brian Rix, The King of Whitehall Farce.


Harry Worth 1972




takepART 2020 Venue Cymru


I had the great pleasure of being a part of takepART last weekend at the vast Venue Cymru in Llandudno.  Just twelve days after finishing “Sleeping Beauty” there, it was a train journey back to once again become Myfanwy, Queen Of Deganwy!


Queen Myfanwy with Lord Mostyn in the opening ceremony!

Wales’ largest Creative Arts and Science Festival is held each year in Venue Cymru. Every available space is used to house workshops, events, performances and places for kids from 0-18 to literally take part in creating or discovering something.


A montage of just a few of the things on offer over two days.

The vast Arena was used to house a Roller Rink, The Welsh National Opera Tunnel Installation with interactive creatures from the Opera “The Cunning Little Vixen” popping up to greet you. Inside this massive space you could find Magic Light’s Puppet Theatre- Black light/UV Puppets not only demonstrated in a show, but there to be picked up and played with.


Stuart Loughland, Nigel & Libby Edwards- The stars of The Colwyn Bay Pantomime are both Magic Light Productions and Safire- illusionists, plus good mates!

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Still within the Arena was Vertical Dancing, using ropes and harnesses to teach you to walk on walls, alongside Make a Mini Sea Monster, and a fascinating Gadget that when you colour in a fish on a piece of paper, it is scanned and comes to life in a 3D Aquarium! (I did this one twice- it really captured the artist in me!)


The Pirate in this picture is Famous children’s illustrator Johnny Duddle- he of Harry Potter Fame, signing the books and running Workshops on Pirates and Dinosaurs!

Still in The Arena there was a large Performing Space, as well as many other workshops, a soft play area, and clog dancing.


A popular area (certainly with me!) was the Therapy Dogs area. Bojangles the Terrier is the meeter and greeter for this organisation. The cartoon above is by Harry Venning. Harry is my favourite cartoonist. He created “Hamlet” in the “Stage Newspaper” each week. Its wicked and topical and, unlike the dogs here, biting! Harry ran his “Release Your Inner Cartoonist” workshops here on both days!


Bojangles in the Therapy Dogs section Ground Floor.

My Royal Walk-abouts filled in a lot of the time- from 10am -5pm on Saturday and 10-4pm Sunday. In between visiting all areas, I compered the Take To The Stage Variety Show in the Theatre Auditorium (Where we did The “Sleeping Beauty” Pantomime.)

The show featured local talents- The Rock Project, The Pearl Shaw School of Performing Arts (Our Junior Dancers in both pantomimes here), Barton Dance & Drama Academy and amazing illusions from Safire, international Illusionists.

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Just a few of the hundreds of workshops and activities at takepART 2020. Aardman Model Making Workshops, Harry Potter Events, The Royal Ballet’s Workshops on “Alice In Wonderland”- Make up sessions with Zoe Ellen, Storytelling, Space Explorers and a whole vast room dedicated to Space, with Professor Planet- The list is endless!

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The Cutting Of The Ribbon!

Over these two packed days, this year 11,500 people- mainly young people took part! You can see the size of the building- here it is (as designed by Architect Aidan Ridyard, who held his Create A New Llandudno Workshops ). It is vast!


Every space became a place to join in, explore, watch, take part throughout two full days- and all FREE OF CHARGE! The Conwy Arts Trust funds this two day explosion of education and activities and during the Panto we held collections for this. During the two days here contributions were gratefully received so that next year can continue from strength to strength.

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My personal highlight was being captured on paper by the incredibly talented Harry Venning- these two cartoons of me are taking pride of place!


Harry Venning draws Queen Myfanwy!

There are many other events to mention, from Pobwyl Y Cwm’s stars – it is one of the longest running “Soaps” in the country, second to Coronation Street- meeting their fans, through to Take A Poem, Create A Puppet, (Punch and Judy appeared in the foyer courtesy of Magic Light Puppets), Game Developers Workshop, Weaving, Archeology, Origami, Singing Workshops, Lion King & Mary Poppins Workshops..Only Boys Aloud singing on the staircase, A Radio Station, A pack of Junior Reporters touring every hour, and Paul Sampson leading a Pap Pack of young photographers- A truly magical and amazing event.


John Evans Returns to Venue Cymru Next Panto. Here is his Understudy!

So, a huge thank you to the Venue Cymru Team and staff and army of volunteers- To Keith for running the Variety Show in the Auditorium- Here he is mid show!


Keith running the corner.

Finally a huge thank you to Theatre Manager Sarah Ecob. She and her team ran the two days like clockwork. If there was a gap it was filled. If there was a queue, it was lessened- Sarah and her team worked non stop to create this very speacial event. Thank you so much for allowing me to takepART!






Backstage At Birmingham!



The Final Night of “Snow White” 2020 at Birmingham Hippodrome . I joined Andrew Ryan and the cast of the Panto to help with Andrew’s “Get-Out”, as he has helped me many times in the past!


Andrew Ryan as Nanny Annie Asprin

The Get-Out was swift, as I was packing away costumes, wigs and shoes as Adam Starr was dressing Andrew for the next entrance. These will return to our store mid week, joining my costumes from Llandudno’s panto to be sorted, cleaned and put away!


The Magnificent Seven!

On the Friday the Hippodrome and Qdos threw a Wrap Party for this and other Qdos Pantos- each and every one “The Fairest In The Land”. Hosted by Nick & Sandra Thomas and Michael and Kathryn Harrison, with Jonathan Kiley, Ed Curtis, Adrian LeSurf, Jess Hicks, Mark Jones, Jake Hinde, Innis Robertson-The Qdos Lounge was heaving with Panto folk from all over the country-Choreographers Alan & Sharon Harding, Panto performers from Alan Stewart with Jane (Dannielle) Stewart, and Alan McHugh from the Scottish Pantomimes, to Paul Zerdin and Martin Hinkins and Paul Bouchier from The Palladium, through Brian & Ann Marie Conley (Plymouth) Chris Hayward, and Dan Russell, Clive Webb and some of the Newcastle Company, Chris Biggins from Bromley, joining in with

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Ceri Dupree from Cardiff Panto, Gary & Yvonne Hind, David Bownes, Tracey Lane, , James McCullough,Jack Land Noble and Alexandra Burke (popping in from The Bodyguard Next Door!) along with many many more I didnt manage to speak to during the evening!

The Evenings “Blooming Apple” awards were hosted by Lucy Westernidge and Jamie John. The Speeches by Michael Harrison.


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Nigel, Andrew, Chris & Dan


George & Gill


George & Andrew


Lesley & Joe before the party


Faye, Jac, Lesley & Joe with Tracey Lane & Sharon Harding

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Adam, Nigel & Gill. Lesley and Brian Conley


Lesley & “her from Next Door” -from The Alexandra Theatre, Alexandra Burke.


Below- Halfway through the Panto Run…..


At the time of writing The Birmingham Pantomime is still in full swing, and just over half way through!

Recently the Palladium finished its run, and there are a few Pantomimes running across the UK, and this spectacular production is going until February 2nd. With Palladium scenery and costumes and some fabulous effects, its well worth the trip if you’ve not seen it yet- lavish, spectacular and very very funny!


Here, courtesy of photographer SIMON HADLEY and The Hippodrome is a glimpse of backstage during the run recently. Starting with Joe McElderry as The Spirit of The Mirror.



Lesley Joseph prepares for her first entrance

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Lesley plays The Wicked Queen Dragonella.

The first version of “Snow White” at The Hippodrome was in 1975. It was an Aubrey Phillips touring panto with Charles Hawtrey as Muddles.It returned to the Hippodrome in 1977.  I replaced Charles Hawtrey when the show panto played the Rhyl Summer Season three months later!


Andrew Ryan does a wig check ready to play Nanny Annie Asprin in his magic mirror.

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The Dame is ready to join the rest of the staff, Muddles and Lady In Waiting, Doreen.

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The next production of Snow White here was The Paul O’Grady version in 1999-2000. Paul O’Grady appeared as The Wicked Queen in the guise of Lily Savage. The Duchess Of Dudley, the wonderful Lizzie Wiggins played The Nurse.

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Waiting In The Wings! 

The next production of “Snow White” was in 2013-2014 when Matt Slack made his Hippodrome debut. This year will be Matt’s seventh consecutive Hippodrome Panto appearance on this the Hippo’s 120th year!


Matt Slack appears as Muddles

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This year’s Qdos “Snow White” is Produced and Directed by Michael Harrison, The assistant Director is Tracy Lane. The Show is Choreographed by Alan Hardin, assisted by Sharon Harding. The Musical Director as always is Robert Willis- there is a six piece orchestra- Malcolm Garrett on drums has been in every pantomime at The Hippodrome for almost thirty years!


Craig Garner gets ready to open the show, along with the rest of the “Magnificent Seven”, Josh Bennett, George Coppen, Greg Doherty, Simeon Dyer, Jamie John and Blake Lisle.


Jamie having a laugh!

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The Ensemble at The Hippodrome are Stephen Alexander- I was in “Aladdin” at Venue Cymru with Stephen a few years back, he has recently been at The Moulin Rouge in Paris. Joining him are Aaron Barker, Joshua Cantrill, Charley Da Silva, Lucy Keenan, Lauren Key, Joseph Malana, Elysia Pemberton, Luke Redford and Laura Watson.


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Preparing for another routine, with gorgeous Palladium costumes.


Grin and bear it!


The  Evil Magic Spell is cast!

The Role of Prince Harry (hugely topical; at the moment of writing this!) is played by Jac Yarrow. Jac was recently starring at The London Palladium- his professional debut- as Joseph, alongside Jason Donovan. Jac is from Cardiff,, hailing from South Wales.


Jac Yarrow as Prince Harry

Snow White often has a Dame, and sometimes the Dame is The Nurse. Here at the Hippo the Queen has a very lazy lady  in waiting- The first person ever to be diagnosed with Lazy Cow Syndrome- Doreen Tipton ! The Queen Of The Black Country Doreen sells out Theatres- a YouTube sensation, she will be touring her one woman show through the West Midlands- if she can be bothered!


Doreen Tipton- the lazy lady in waiting

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The Finale

The Queen’s Guard are Flawless- one of the UK’s hottest dance acts, launched on Britain’s Got Talent- they even have their own school The Flawless Dance School headed by founder Marlon Warren. Flawless are Marlon Warren, Christian Alozie, Dominic Hutchinson, Toby Jackman, Jeffrey Felicisimo, Mike McNeish, Stefan Sinclair and Bradley Charles.




The Title Role belongs to Faye Brookes– known to millions as Kate Connor in Coronation Street. No stranger to being a Princess, Faye has played Princess Jasmine in Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty and Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical!


Faye Brookes watching from the wings

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Its behind you! Oh yes it is! No Panto is complete without The Ghost Gag!


This stunning Pantomime is running until February 2nd and is one of the Fairest In The Land at this moment- twice daily at the Birmingham Hippodrome, lighting designed by Ben Cracknell, with Musical Supervision by Gary Hind, special effects by The Twins FX, and a sound design by Tom Marshall. The Wardrobe created by Qdos with speciality Costumes by Mike Coltman, and the projection design by Duncan McLean.



The Fairest Panto In All The Land written by Alan McHugh and Matt Slack. 21st December 2019- 2nd February 2020.

A Postscript! This week Dame Andrew Made did a make-over on TV Chef  Glynn Purnell, as he swapped his kitchen for PantolandMatt Slack was at hand to teach Glynn some panto tongue twisters!


Glynn commented “thanks to the honed skills of Andrew Ryan and Matt Slack, I have realised a dream of mine I never knew I had, to become Birmingham’s bearded Brummie Dame!”



Andrew was invited to attend the make-over of the Bullring Bull- a twice life size bronze by Laurence Broderick, symbol (or symbull!) of the Bullring Centre. For a day it became a Panto Dame!



The panto continues until February 2nd 2020.