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There’s No Place Like A Home! Sonning.

May 5, 2013

There’s No Place Like A Home”- The Mill, Sonning.


A second chance to see Paul Elliott’s comedy “There’s No Place Like A Home”, about a feisty group of retired thespians and variety artistes trying to save their retirement home, Stollberg Hall.

I first saw it a couple of years ago at the Palace Theatre Westcliff, as part of a national tour, and it was lovely to revisit Stollberg Hall this time at the Mill At Sonning Theatre with a new cast, with the exception of a couple of friends who were also in the previous production.

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Tonight was an opportunity to indulge in Pantomime memories- the writer and several performers are deeply rooted in Panto. Paul has produced over 450 pantomimes in the UK and abroad, as well as countless West End, and worldwide tours to his credit as producer and as Director.

Paul wrote and directed his comedy a few years ago, and recreated it here at the lovely Mill, where Tony Eden furnished a beautiful set with every details lovingly created- copies of “Stage” on the tables, photographs of previous West End and touring shows that the residents had, we assume appeared in, and a great attention to detail on every front. Jane Kidd designed the costumes, including a beautifully tailored Circus Master for one of the cast, with lighting by Mathew Bliss.


This Grade II listed building is a perfect intimate setting for plays – especially the comedies so popular in this “supper Theatre” venue to the West Of London on the Thames, complete with a working Watermill that can be viewed in the bar.

This was a chance to catch up with some panto performers of many years standings, and some old mates as well. It was great to catch up with Brian Godfrey, Panto Dame and Ugly Sister. I’ve known Brian for many years, and it was very rare for me to see him at Panto time, as we would both be performing “Cinderella” somewhere in the country for first Paul Elliott and his E&B Productions, and then for E&B and AMG that was to become Qdos.

The “E” of E&B is pretty obvious to work out- founded by Mr Elliott, but not many people realise that the “B” stood for Byrne- Peter Byrne. Both Brian and Peter have been in both productions of “There’s No Place Like A Home”, and it was so good to touch base once more.


Peter Byrne directed and starred in the very first E&B panto I did with Peter Robbins back in 1983 at The Gordon Craig in Stevenage.Peter (Byrne) has, to this day, never forgotten that we blatently tried to bribe our director by taking him to tea at The Ritz , to see if we could do a boudoir scene we had been performing the previous two years. It must have been a good tea- we got a boudoir scene, and a further twenty nine odd years of scenes that followed!

Peter Byrne was a huge star on television when I was growing up- “Dixon Of Dock Green” starred Jack Warner as Dixon and Peter as Andy Crawford. My Mother watched every Saturday night at 7pm to see Peter who was, and still is, regarded as THE television matinee idol! His stage career and television career has been hugely successful, including 24 pantomimes for Paul Elliott after he co founded the company, and later left the running to Paul to concentrate on performing. For four years he has been one of Bill Kenwright’s Agatha Christie Company touring the UK, and has appeared in countless thrillers, comedies and West End appearances. He reminded me tonight that he starred in “The Blue Lamp” (the Dixon of Dock Green origin) at The Hippodrome Theatre in London. TV viewers will fondly recall he was Ma Boswell’s fancy man in “Bread”!


Peter directed that panto with Peter Robbins and myself all those years ago- he played a policeman on our BBC screens every Saturday from 1956 onwards, and here in 2013 he was playing a Detective Inspector on stage. That must surely be a theatrical record?  I had a lovely long chat with this man that I admire so much.


Chatting to Brian Godfrey about Panto is a lengthy affair- we both go way back, and both share the same experiences- playing “Sisters”, then playing Dame roles- Brian did his first at Dartford I believe, as did I.. we’ve rehearsed “Cinderella’s” in the same rehearsal rooms but on different floors, and both shared Brian Conley as our resident Buttons over the years! Here’s a picture of Brian and me at a Qdos “do” a couple of years ago.

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Another veteran of “Sisterdom” is Barry Howard who plays Eric in this production. Barrie teamed up with John Inman in the days before “Are You Being Served” and “Hi De Hi” to become the sought after “Sisters” of the day, with fabulous costumes and wigs that caught my eye.


Barry and John both played Dame after “Sisters” and had their wigs created by “Modreno” as it was then, which is where Peter & I went after asking them where they got them from. Gerry and Kevin at “Bodyline” as it became, and nowadays “Wig Art” became big mates, and I have their wigs made (as do many other Dames) to this day- some thirty three years later!

Barry played Dame at Swansea Grand when I was living there, and over the years our paths have crossed. The poster illustrated here has a group called “Tomfoolery” billed alongside Barry. This comedy group featured a very young Brian Conley in his debut panto appearance!


It is strange,considering I costume Dames that the one opportunity I had to design a costume for Barry, it turned out to be a velvet smoking jacket and a pair of dress trousers! I designed “The Rocky Horror Show” in Bournemouth in which Barry played Narrator in one of the very first David Ian Productions!

Barrie has recently played The Palladium once again in “Scrooge” with Tommy Steele- he has appearted in several versions of this musical, as well as “Anything Goes”- and appeared in comedies ranging from “Run For Your Wife” and Cash On Delivery- as well as Television’s “House Of Windsor” sitcom and, of course as Barry Stuart-Hargreaves in “Hi De Hi”. This picture is Barry as Jacob Marley in “Scrooge.”


Another Panto veteran in this production is Bobby Bennett, who plays Brian. Bobby won “Opportunity Knocks” way back in 1964 and became well known for “Junior Showtime” from The City Varieties, Leeds, appearing on TV every week alongside Roy Rolland in a tribute to Old Mother Riley, and Mark Curry, Kathryn Apanowitz (who was with me  in that Peter Byrne panto I mentioned at Stevenage) and Bonnie Langford.

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Bobby had his own spot on Yorkshire TV’s “Stars On Sunday”- Bobby Bennett In The Paddock, and wrote YTV’s children’s show “The Witches Brew”. After 58 years of performing in almost every aspect of “Show Business”, including panto Dame, it was a huge pleasure to see him here at The Mill.


Another Panto performer is Michael Walter, a veteran of many productions of “Snow White” on stage, and Television productions including Blackadder, Chronicles Of Narnia and The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe. Rosemary Ashe, who plays Joyce in this play has made many pantomime appearances as Fairy Godmother when not appearing in West End Musicals such as “Mary Poppins”, “Phantom”, Les Miserable”, The Witches Of Eastwick” and “The Boyfriend” to name but a few!

Ian Gledhill recently played King in “Jack & The Beanstalk “ at The Southampton Mayflower, alongside Julian Clary.

Masters of Farce, Geoffrey Davies and Derren Nesbitt joined Jill Freud ( I would never reveal a lady’s age- but Jill is a shining and glorious example of why Theatre keeps mind, body and especially soul forever young)Mark Hammersley,  and Emily McMorrough in this play tonight.Emily has appeared in several pantomimes ncluding Cinderella at The Garrick, Beauty And The Beast at Stevenage and many theatre productions. She has a Fairy Godmother of her own, as her Mum is Lynette McMorrough!

A lovely evening in a beautiful setting- Sonning. Thanks to the cast and to Paul! The production runs until the 18th of this month at The Mill Theatre in Sonning, Berkshire.






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