Matt Aston is co-directing with Berwick Kaler York Theatre Royal’s pantomime Sleeping
Beauty. He is also writer and director of The Storm Whale, based on the Benji Davies
children’s books, in the Studio over Christmas. We chat to Matt about the exciting challenges of panto…
What are the main challenges of directing a panto so many people know and love?
Fortunately I’m co-directing with Berwick so I’ve got his 40 years of experience to lean on!
The main thing is not trying to invent the wheel. I’m here to support Berwick and help to get the best possible show on that audiences will continue to love and support. And we’ve also got the brilliant regular cast members who will help to keep things as they should be.
How challenging is it to direct both the panto and The Storm Whale at the same time. How are you juggling both?
One Christmas I had four shows at the same time so it’s not too bad this year. Once it was
confirmed that I was doing panto we moved The Storm Whale rehearsals to October and
opened it with a couple of preview / work-in-progress performances at Pocklington Arts
Centre. The show is now in storage until panto is up and running and then we’ll put it in the Studio ready for its three week Christmas run.
What can audiences expect from this year’s panto, will it differ without Berwick Kaler as Dame?
There’s going to be a lot that will make York audiences feel at home. David, Martin, Suzy
and AJ are all back and, although he’s not in it, Berwick’s writing and co-directing it with me so it’s still very much his show. There will, of course, be a difference with him not being onstage but I think it’s about embracing that change rather than being fearful of it. I’m sure everyone involved will step up to make it as good as ever.
What pantos have you directed and been involved with in the past? Is it significantly different to direct than a standard play or musical?
I did panto at Theatre Royal Wakefield for a couple of years. Then the Rock and Roll panto at Theatr Clwyd in North Wales and the last three years I’ve been at City Varieties in Leeds. I’ve also worked with Kenneth Alan Taylor (Nottingham Playhouse’s equivalent to Berwick) so learned a lot from him. All directors are different but I approach all shows in pretty much the same way. There’s a script, a team of talented actors and creatives – as well as the brilliant support from everyone at the theatre – and you all work together to put on the best show possible.
Don’t miss Sleeping Beauty at York Theatre Royal from 7th December – 25th January or The Storm Whale in the Studio from 14th December – 4th January. Visit the York Theatre Royal site for more information.
Photograph credited to Alan Fletcher