We are here at a Royal residence – the Theatre Royal in York – for an audience with the Queen.
There are plenty of drama queens in theatrical circles but this one is special because The Queen is among the characters listed in this year’s pantomime Sleeping Beauty.
Surely Her Majesty has plenty of other matters to occupy her attention like state visits, keeping Parliament in order and walking the corgis but we are reliably informed that The Queen has a starring role in the first panto since Dame Berwick Kaler hung up his boots (the ones he bought at the local Army & Navy store four decades ago at the start of his reign as YTR’s Dame).
From the moment The Queen enters the room, you sense something’s not quite right about HM. Something is afoot. She doesn’t walk regally towards you but skips. Yes, skips. Despite the crown and the frock it becomes clear that she is an imposter and possessor of as much royal blood as one of Dracula’s drained victims.
This is - and the trademark skipping gives it away – York pantomime veteran Martin Barrass in a frock, wearing a crown and for all the world (of make-believe) behaving like he rules if not the country then at least Panto Land.
The clues are there – a man in a frock in a pantomime. Surely, that can mean only one thing. The obvious question that must be asked is this: “Are you York Theatre Royal’s new Dame?”.
Consider the facts. Berwick Kaler is irreplaceable as Dame. He might as well have the copyright on the phrase ‘pantomime Dame’ to stop young pretenders assuming the throne.
After three decades of skipping around as the Dame’s silly sidekick son, Martin is playing his own particular game of thrones. All that water and gunge thrown at him in the annual slapstick slosh scene has muddled his thinking. You could say he’s befuddled, which sounds rather like a character he might play in pantomime.
Clearly Martin has been cast as a female for his comic skills not his legs because, as we all know, the best legs in pantomime are attached to another Theatre Royal regular, namely York’s favourite Brummie A. J Powell.
Besides, there is good reason why Martin can’t be the Dame – as a pantomime, the story of Sleeping Beauty doesn’t usually have a Dame. It does, however, have a Queen. Enter stage left, Martin in a frock and crown, skipping.
Mystery solved without the need to employ Hercule Poirot’s ‘leetle grey cells’. Martin can’t be the Dame because there isn’t one. There is – and feel free to sing along – nothing like a Dame in Sleeping Beauty.
As usual we – that’s the Common We not the Royal We – will just have to wait until the curtain rises on Sleeping Beauty on 7 December to discover exactly what surprises and silliness Berwick’s script and his game-for-a-laugh cast spring on the audience.