Mark Shenton’s top 6 panto dames
And the best of them have become theatrical institutions: actors and/or personalities who may have thriving careers outside of pantomime, but come into their own at Christmas. Here are a selection who make pantomimes a key part of their lives – and ours.
1. Berwick Kaler
Britain’s longest-running consecutive panto dame is Berwick Kaler. He is an institution at the York Theatre Royal and, despite recent heart surgery, is about to perform his 39th dame in Jack and the Beanstalk. In Roger Foss’ review of last year’s Cinderella for The Stage, he wrote: “Over the decades Kaler must have marched tens of thousands of families up to the top of pantoland’s peaks. And in his rare moments off stage in the theatre’s newly redesigned main house, playing Hernia, Cinderella’s brutally barmy step-sister, they are still up there with him.”
2. Kenneth Alan Taylor
Kenneth Alan Taylor has been associated with the Nottingham Playhouse’s pantomime for more than 30 years, a tradition he brought from Oldham where he was artistic director in 1984. Now in his 80s, he has hung up his heels. Does he miss it? As he told The Stage recently: “When I look at the schedule – there are 84 performances this year – I don’t miss playing the dame. If I could do a short week then yes, but otherwise it’s a killer. But working on the panto is still the highlight of the year.”
3. Paul O’Grady
Paul O’Grady is one of our finest (and filthiest) drag queens. He emerged from a career as pub drag queen Lily Savage, to become a national institution. Last year he and Julian Clary returned to the London Palladium, in a pantomime that Michael Billington, in the Guardian, referred to as a “tsunami of smut”. Clary returns in this year’s Dick Whittington, so perhaps we can expect more of the same; it’s a pity O’Grady isn’t joining him.
4. Christopher Biggins
5. Clive Rowe
6. Roy Hudd
The veteran and venerable Roy Hudd has long been a pantomime legend – he has starred in them for more than 35 years – but it wasn’t until 2015 that he switched gender to play a dame. As he told the Daily Mirror at the time, “I always played Buttons, because a buddy of mine, who was a dame, said to me: ‘Don’t go into skirts, son, because if you make a decent fist of it you’ll never get out of them.’ But then I thought: ‘Well, I ought to do it once before I snuff it, because I’m nearly 80′.” He made his dame debut in Dick Whittington at Wilton’s Music Hall and returning last Christmas, Michael Billington wrote of him, “It’s been a vintage year for 80-year-olds in the British theatre. First, there was Glenda Jackson as King Lear. Now Roy Hudd as Mother Goose.
We need your help…
When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.
The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.
We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.
Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.