All in the performance

Oh yes it is… a performance that tells more about the history of pantomime than words alone, as Tiffany experienced.

Professor Jane Moody and Berwick Kaler

As I made my way into York’s Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, I had no idea what the first Arts Discovery ‘Event’ held in store for me. All I had to go on was that it was based around a lecture, ‘Pantomime before Berwick Kaler’, the legendary pantomime dame of York’s Theatre Royal, and presented by Professor Jane Moody, the director of York University’s Humanities Research Centre – and she had promised me it wasn’t going to be just any ordinary lecture.

Pantomime Prince

It seemed ordinary enough as I rushed to grab a seat near the front.  “Are you sure now that this is your seat?” I suddenly heard from behind me. I turned to find myself staring at a beak-like nose on a painted mask adorning a man in a blue military uniform. He quickly shrugged his shoulders and went to pester other unsuspecting guests.

The event was an inspirational mix of in-depth learning and raucous entertainment. Whilst Professor Moody’s words described the very British pantomime’s evolution from risqué Italian street acts, the audience was given the chance to see and experience it brought to life.  I watched on as the foolish Prince I encountered earlier was tricked out of his coin purse by two beggar women, before being captivated by an early English harlequin silently hatching out of an egg. The bellowing shout of “my son!” broke the spell, and as recognition of the giant chicken behind us slowly dawned on the audience laughter erupted as Berwick Kaler himself made his appearance.

There's nothing like a dame: Berwick Kaler

Finally we were treated to the full splendour of the pantomime dame as Queen Victoria. I was captivated as this larger-than-life but very recognisable character introduced us to the more subtle early dame by performing a simple tongue-tying wordplay routine that produced just as much riotous laughter as the throwing of cream pies and Wagon Wheels.

I went away from the night not only having been thoroughly entertained, but also knowing an awful lot about the history of pantomimes.  And, thanks to a closing stint of audience participation, it took me the whole night to stop trying to say, “You’ll never get a better bit of batter on your platter, than a good old Yorkshire Pud!”


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