There was laughter, tears, jokes, cheers and a standing ovation at the end of the last pantomime on Saturday night.
And before the final curtain fell on an emotional evening, the man who made the York Theatre Royal panto into the stuff of legend, Berwick Kaler, gave a speech.
Berwick, who was dame for 40 years until he retired from performing at the end of The Grand Old Dame Of York last year, wrote and co-directed this year’s show, Sleeping Beauty.
Theatre executive director Tom Bird has said that, due to falling ticket sales, this will be the final one of its kind, with a new creative team coming in to create a new panto for Christmas 2020.
It means Berwick, and the performers Martin Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell, will not be working together again.
And Berwick told the adoring audience: “I’m bloody furious!”
‘Can’t tell you the truth’
He said that he was more emotional than at the end of the final show of The Grand Old Dame Of York.
“I’ve been told I can’t tell you the truth,” Berwick said, which led to chants of “Do it! Do it!”
“I want to,” he responded. “I’m bloody furious. I don’t want to be political or anything.
“For actors, every time they do a job it could be the last time they’re ever employed – they’re used to it. But some of these people here have given half their lives to this one panto.”
Berwick told the audience:
The one thing I want you to know is that not once has one of our pantomimes in 43 years lost a penny. We have made money for York.
How can one man do this to us? I don’t understand it. I don’t want you to do him any harm. Off with his head!
But he’s wrong. Someone has got to tell him. He didn’t make this decision on his own. The board must have said yes. So they have a lot of answers as well.
‘Why stop it?’
Berwick said he loved York Theatre Royal and wanted to thank everyone who worked in the building. “Someone tell the new management that this wonderful, wonderful theatre has been a repertory theatre for 275 years and more,” he said.
“It’s a repertory theatre. We must put on our own shows for the local population. It’s your theatre.”
The actor read out a letter from Barbara and Peter Crane who had been going to the show for 30 years.
They wrote: “We are so sad that things are going to change, and appalled at the way things have been handled. They have no idea of the close relationship and ties that you and the team have with the pantomime goers, and the warmth that you all share.”
I just cannot understand that someone can do this to something that doesn’t need fixing.
I’m not begging for a job. I’m collecting a £99 state pension now. But I do care about this team.
It’s love, and that’s what we’re selling. For goodness sake, why stop it? Why? We’re not doing anybody any harm for goodness sake!
Anyway I’ll give the management three days to reconsider…
Tom Bird was at the last night, according to theatregoers.
Berwick finished by saying: “I love you, god bless you, and thank you.”
Then he led the team in a chorus of We’ll Meet Again and, to the loud cheers of a packed house, the curtain came down for the final time.
You can see videos of the full speech on the The York Pantomime (Berwick Kaler) Appreciation Society Facebook Group