Dick Turpin Rides Again – Review – York Grand Opera House
By Karl Hornsey, December 2021
The legend returns! So declares the poster advertising the arrival of Dick Turpin Rides Again at the Grand Opera House in York. And, it’s fair to say that the legend in question isn’t the eponymous highwayman, but Britain’s longest-serving pantomime dame Berwick Kaler, who returns to the stage following an absence of almost three years and a somewhat short retirement. Even at the age of 75 and four years after undergoing heart bypass surgery, the lure of his beloved panto was clearly too much to resist for Kaler, and it was obvious from the minute he stepped onto the stage here, in his character of Dotty Donut, that the huge affection built up over so many years entertaining panto fans at the York Theatre Royal shows no signs of diminishing.
“Setpieces that have to be seen to be believed”
And this chaotic, original production offers up everything that Kaler fans could possibly wish for, including a reunion with several of the actors who have been a key part of previous performances – namely Suzy Cooper, AJ Powell, David Leonard and Martin Barrass. The camaraderie of the team and the sheer love of what they’re doing shines through at all times, giving the audience the feeling that at least one part of their traditional Christmas remains in these turbulent times. With Kaler writing, directing and starring in this production, it’s like slipping into a pair of comfy old slippers for those watching, knowing that the scenes and lines they expect to see and hear will be along at any minute in this madcap performance.
Daniel Conway joins the team as Dick Turpin, mended of his old ways and determined to find true love on the road from London to York. There’s not a huge amount of plot going on here, which is to be expected, but simply a number of setpieces that have to be seen to be believed, with Dick’s story being interrupted by, among other things, a fish-seeking crocodile, a court case involving Bagpuss and a breadmaking masterclass set to a yoga session. Well, I did say this has to be seen to be believed.
This is far from just a cheap and cheerful production though, as, now under the guise of Crossroads Pantomimes, the biggest pantomime producers in the industry, a fair bit of money has been chucked at it as well. This is best demonstrated when Conway shows off his belting voice as he flies high above the stage on his horse Peggy to bring the first half to a rousing finale. For those who mourned Kaler’s retirement from the stage not so long ago, Dick Turpin Rides Again is likely to be just the tonic to show that all is well with the world.