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Andrew Liddle
Features Writer
7:00 AM 28th November 2019

Martin Barrass Stars In Sleeping Beauty

Suzy Cooper, David Leonard, Martin Barrass and A.J. Powell
Suzy Cooper, David Leonard, Martin Barrass and A.J. Powell
Martin Barrass has been appearing in panto at York Theatre Royal since 1984. He is is currently in rehearsal for Sleeping Beauty - his first without playing alongside legendary Dame, Berwick Kaler. Yorkshire Times, in an exclusive interview, asked him how things were going.

How does it feel approaching a panto that Berwick is not going to be in?

Berwick may not be with us in spirit but he’s in full time work as we speak - I think he’s already putting on a Santa Claus outfit at Debenhams.

Will you have to adapt to play a different role now that you are no longer the great man’s  sidekick?

It will be exactly the same, no difference and still skipping, and wearing a frock of my own design.

Is this a chance to carry on Berwick’s legacy or are you looking to the future.

As for panto in the future I think it’s one of our greatest - and I really mean this – art forms and shows that it can have as much relevance in the twentieth century as it had in the nineteenth.

Tell me about your role in Sleeping Beauty.

I am playing Queen Ariadne. She is Queen of all the country – which looks remarkably like York. Basically she’s the mother of Princess Beauty. She has ‘brung her up proper’. The last time we did Sleeping Beauty at York I played the Dame’s husband Albert – Berwick was Queen Victoria. I was wearing a beautiful white costume and just before we went on I said to Berwick, ‘I feel like Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman’. We went on stage and Berwick told everyone what I’d just said about being Richard Gere!

People outside the business have no conception how much work goes into a panto and how exhausting it can be with two houses a day - can you give us some insights.

I think the perception of some snooty bods is it is just messing about but you have to do a lot of thinking about the audience as well. You have to get them into the panto mood so it’s just one big party. To do panto properly you have to make the comedy very sharp. That said the thing I like most is physical comedy which they don’t teach you at drama school – how to fall properly, how to throw a custard pie or bucket of water at someone, all the things that go to make a great panto.

There is no Dame this year but do you have ambitions to play her the following year?

I am expecting a call from the Palace any minute now about becoming a Dame.

What have you been working on recently and what’s next after the panto.

One of the most enjoyable jobs was playing Danny, conductor of a Northern brass band, in Brassed Off at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle under Lyme. I was taught how to conduct which was great. The role is a monumental challenge for an actor. It’s like doing a modern King Lear. The production was in the round which was great for the audience.

Do you think Berwick might ever be coaxed out of retirement for maybe a cameo role?

I would love him to, then I can get my own back on him.

What unfulfilled ambitions to do you still have in theatre?

To become a surgeon – no, seriously, when you graduated at drama school you had to say how you see your art progressing? I put down ‘anything and everything’. They said, ‘you can’t do that’. Versatility is the answer. I love doing different accents and different genre. I’ve played an 87-year-old waiter (in One Man Two Guvnors in a role written for Martin by Richard Bean), a drag queen in Ladies Day and, when I was eight, a Dalek in a school play. They said my Yorkshire accent made it sound like I was saying Dia-lect not Dalek.