One of the costumes worn by legendary Dame Berwick Kaler in his final pantomime at York Theatre Royal has been given to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London for its theatre collection.
Berwick retired as Dame in February after 40 years although his association with pantomime continues as writer and co-director of this year’s Theatre Royal show, Sleeping Beauty.
The costume from The Grand Old Dame of York joins other York pantomime material in the V&A collection including a limited edition candlesnuffer in the shape of the Dame, backstage photographs of his last pantomime and a DVD copy of his pantomime Dick Turpin along with costume and set designs.
The donated dress is Berwick’s ‘script costume’ – designed by Mark Walters – worn in the opening scenes of The Grand Old Dame of York.
Catherine Haill, Curator of Popular Entertainment at the V&A, said: “Of all the costumes we could have wished for, this is absolutely the one that tops the list. It is such a witty – with its Elizabethan ruffles and jaunty ink-pot and quill fascinator – and elegant summation of Berwick’s last pantomime and its 39 forebears.
“It will be a great addition to our collections. We also have the backstage photographs to add to our record of the momentous last production, along with the programme and poster.
“The costume really is great – so colourful, witty and well-made. It’s fantastic to know that Berwick’s incredible career will be represented in the V&A by a costume that reflects his 40 years of scriptwriting, and includes the iconic boots.”
Berwick has donated the boots he’s worn in every pantomime. He said: “They are the original boots I bought in an Army and Navy Store in York 40 years ago. I knew then my Dame was never going to wear high heels!
“They have never been polished, probably out of laziness at first and then grew into a superstition. I first walked on stage as Dame wearing these boots and 40 years later walked off wearing the same boots.”
Berwick’s wig and trademark tights – one red leg, one yellow leg – have also been donated to the V&A.
The dress was transported free-of-charge to London by York courier and haulage company D.A.W. Logistics, based on Full Sutton Industrial Estate, because owner David Wright is a pantomime fan.
“I’ve watched Berwick in pantomime over the years and wanted to put something back into the community. Transporting the pantomime dress to London was an honour.”
The costume is now at the V&A stores where it is being catalogued and assessed before conservation and mounting for a new gallery display next June.
Another of the Dame’s outfits from The Grand Old Dame of York – the glitterball dress worn by Berwick in the ‘walk-down’ finale – was donated to York Castle Museum where it was exhibited in the Shaping the Body exhibition.
Berwick Kaler will be back on stage at York Theatre Royal on 16 October for the 275th anniversary gala night, An Audience With Berwick Kaler. All money raised will go towards the Berwick Kaler Foundation which aims to bring families, friends and communities together to enjoy everything that theatre has to offer.