York Castle Museum

Berwick Kaler Outfit

One of York Castle Museum’s newest objects is this sparkling outfit created in 2018 to celebrate Berwick Kaler’s 40th anniversary as dame of York Theatre Royal’s annual pantomime. Mr Kaler wore a different outfit in every single scene of The Grand Old Dame of York, which he also wrote.

This outfit comes from the very final scene, and is called a ‘walk down costume’. He was wearing this costume when he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Great British Pantomime Awards.  

Designed by Michael Walters and made by Jeannie Fletcher assisted by Felicity Shillingford, the costume is made of three parts: the mirror ball skirt, a dazzling jacket, and a spectacular headdress. Theatrical costumes are often heavily engineered, and this is no exception. Happily for us curators, the skirt is made of Plastazote, a type of plastic we use a lot in museums because it’s safe for the objects. This also makes it lighter than it looks.  

 The sequined jacket and the headdress are decorated with party poppers and glimmering lights. For stage, the lights had a remote-control battery pack, so they could be turned on and off by the lighting technicians. York Theatre Royal very kindly adjusted the wiring of the costume so we can still turn the lights on for special occasions. The mirror balls on the sleeves aren’t attached to the jacket. Made as miniature versions of the skirt, they slip on like bracelets.  

This costume is on display in the Fashion gallery of Shaping the Body.  

With thanks to York Theatre Royal who donated this outfit to our collection, and to Jeannie Fletcher who shared with us her experiences of making it.