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Page last updated at 12:45 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009
York's abominable panto villain

By Tim Dale
BBC York & North Yorkshire

David Leonard has been taking to the stage as the ultimate baddie at York's Theatre Royal since the mid-eighties:

David Leonard, York Theatre Royal pantomime
Despite three years at drama school David is well known as a panto villain

"Yes, when we were standing round a tea urn all those years ago, we didn't imagine we'd still be here. But it's such fun isn't it? And no-one else would employ us."

The script, written by Berwick Kaler is tailored to the regulars and over the years David has been landed with some wonderful villains.

For his 21st pantomime in 2008 it was Count Vermin DeVile, "He did sound a bit like an X-Factor judge but he was a vampire who wanted to take over the world!"

For most of the year all the panto regulars are just 'jobbing' actors. David has directed as well but, come December, they're all back in York for their regular gig:

"I wouldn't do another panto somewhere else," says David, "I just think it's peculiar to York that we have a team that's been doing it for so long. The audience came as children years ago and now they bring their children.

"I don't think there's another theatre in the country that has this tradition with the same group of people. I think that's what gives it the edge."

Compared to many other pantos, the Theatre Royal one has a long run, 75 performances.

"The voice does go after the first couple of weeks, because the York audience is so responsive.

"They demand so much and Berwick is the key to this. He's the driving force of the show, he gives it 101% so you have to and vocally you need that attack."

Exhausting as it might be, David believes that's the only way you can do it, "You see other theatres doing it, they just stroll through it. Yes, we have radio mikes now but in the old days the only person who had a microphone was Berwick for his big number, but we were having to belt out songs over the band.

"You spend three years at a drama school," David went to the Guildford School of Acting, "and they never tell you that if you do panto you'll lose your voice."

David Leonard
For the rest of the year David is a 'jobbing' actor and director

It might be hard work but there are advantages, "A lot of actors find it quite liberating. It's not often that you get to stand on the stage as an actor and collude with the audience, talk to the audience and kind of give something of yourself. It's different from anything else you do as an actor."

But what does he make of those performers who can be very dismissive of pantomimes? "I don't know why some actors are. I suppose it's because they've seen very bad pantos or they've been in them. Now so many of them are made up of ex Big Brother stars and so-called celebrities you look at it and think why would you want to do that?

"I suppose we're quite rare that we do a repertory panto which has been going for so many years. We've built up this tradition that is unusual."

The York Theatre Royal show attracts a huge audience every year and is regularly listed by national critics as one of the best pantomimes in the country. David admits that it is wonderful when visitors to York say how they enjoyed the show, despite it being very tailored to the city:

"We do get a lot of adults but for me the best audience is still mum, dad and the kids. I never see children in our audience inattentive, and I guarantee that I've seen many pantos where the children are bored and aren't following the story.

"The joke amongst us is that there is no story, but actually there is. The children must follow that story and it is that innocence which you have to get hold of to bring them along with you."

David is appearing in Humpty Dumpty at York Theatre Royal from 10 December 2009 to 30 January 2010. Visit the theatre's website for more information.




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