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March 25, 2014





The Menier Chocolate Factory March –April 2014

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 A Farce with Panto credentials!

Enjoyed a great afternoon watching Ray Cooney’s farce “Two Into One” at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory, sitting with mates and watching mates. What a joy!

Speaking of Joy, I discovered that Andrew Ryan & I were seated next to Joy Graham by sheer chance. In row B where our chums could see the whites of our eyes, as row B is about three feet away from the front of the stage at the Chocolate Factory! Joy Graham we have both known for years. A long time (fifty Five Years plus) member of the CAA when it was truly known as the “Concert Artistes Association”, not the current “Club for Acts & Actors” as they’ve decided to rechristen it!

Joy played Fairy in “Sleeping Beauty” at Ilford Panto a few years back and has graced the theatres of the UK and the West End many times in a long and sparkling career. From “Chicago” to “Oliver” and “Forty Second Street” with a good few plays, musicals and TV appearances in between. From Renee Branning in Eastenders to appearances in the Bill, Joy also has appeared in dozens of commercials. She was guest of honour at Catherine Zeta Jones’s Wedding in America, having been great pals since “Forty Second Street” at Drury Lane. Today she was with Alan Hardy from the Kenneth More Theatre enjoying a great romp of a comedy!


Ray Cooney OBE has graced the West End for over Forty Years and enjoyed a career as Actor and Playwright/Director for sixty five years. A testament to his spriteliness- he executes a brilliant pratfall in this show, at the age of Eighty-One! Yes, Ray appears throughout the play as a money grabbing devious waiter at the Westminster Hotel, and, like the rest of this ensemble cast moves the furniture as the set changes with great aplomb!

“Two Into One” played the West End in 1984. It followed the huge success of his “Run For Your Wife” which ran for nine years. He founded the Theatre Of Comedy, and has a DVD of the Film version of his “Run For Your Wife” starring Danny Dyer, Sarah Harding, Neil Morrissey, Denise Van Outen , Kellie Shirley and Louise Michelle out at the moment.


The Production team “Run For Your Wife”

and a cameo role played by Dame Judi Dench! The list goes on and on. The cameo players donated their fees to theatrical charities.  The film is produced by TV and panto star Vick Michelle MBE and co directed by John Luton.


“Two Into One” was first presented at the Shaftesbury Theatre (Then Theatre Of Comedy HQ) with Sir Donald Sinden and Michael Williams in the lead roles. This show has Michael Praed and his real life wife Josefina Gabrielle as the Member of Parliament and his frisky wife, aided and abeted by his PPS played by Nick Wilton.

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Michael Praed to me will always br Prince Michael Of Moldavia! Joan Collins’s son-in-law! The end of contract plot in “Dynasty” that saw his wedding besieged by terrorists and almost the entire cast seemingly slaughtered until their contracts were renewed the following season. Michael  is known to millions as Robin Of Sherwood from his ‘Eighties TV series, as well as the star of plays and musicals ranging from “Pirates” at Drury Lane to “Three Muscateers” on Broadway.


Josefina Gabrielle will shortly go from this Chocolate Factory into the Magical world of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Drury Lane. She joins the cast there shortly as Mrs Teavee. Her credits range from Laurey in “Carousel” at the National and on Broadway, through Sweet Charity, Witches Of Eastwick, Goodbye Girl to her recent Sondheim success in “Merrily We Roll Along” at the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2013.


Nick Wilton is a regular panto dame around the UK, and last season was at New Brighton in Jack & The Beanstalk as Dame Trott, before that Tunbridge Wells in “Snow White”, and has played Dame for over fourteen years. When not blundering into the Kitchens of famous chefs dressed in a towel (Should have gone to….) he’s appearing here dressed in a towel for half the play! Nick has appeared in dozens of Ray Cooney Plays and played the Cab Driver in the film “Run For Your Wife”. Nick played Sarah the Cook at the Kenneth More Theatre’s “Dick Whittington”.

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two into one

This Cooney romp has a few grand Dames of the Panto Empire. Jeffrey Holland plays the stiff and starchy Hotel Manager. Jeff’s background in the major reps and theatresin the Midlands led to him taking over from Frankie Howerd at the beginning of a panto run at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, and contionuing for the whole run. There’s a section all about Jeff’s panto career on this site- “Spotlight on Jeffrey Holland”. The star of Hi De Hi, You Rang M’Lord and “Oh Mr Beeching” is appearing in his one man show about Stan Laurel, and he recently finished playing Dame in “Robin Hood” at the Theatre Royal Plymouth with Nigel Havers, Lee Mead and Bobby Davro.

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Jeff in Dame mode.    Jeff and Judy Buxton

Jeff has a long association with Ray Cooney- He played John Smith in the 1985 “Run For Your Wife” and over the past thirty years has appeared in Ray’s “Caught In The Net”, “Funny Money” and “Tom, Dick & Harry” . Delighted to see Jeff’s other half, Judy Buxton in the foyer. Judy and I did “Cinderella” at Darlington along with Ray Meagher a few years back!

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Brian Godfrey as Sister and as Dame

Another Panto Dame and superb “Sister” is Brian Godfrey. Brian has been connected with the “Cooney” family for a very long time, and was drafted in by Ray to be his Directorial Assistant in staging this farce in the very small stage and backstage area here at the Menier.


Me and Brian at a press launch

There’s a “Spotlight On Brian Godfrey” on this site too, with all of Brian’s panto (and theatre) work to look at, as well as a lot of great photographs. I’ve known Brian for a very long time- back to the days of E&B Productions and the Paul Elliott pantomimes. We have never worked together, but have rehearsed above or below, and attended the same press events. Brian was teamed for several years with David Moreton as Ugly Sisters, and recently has played both Dame and Sister for Qdos. His most recent being at the Bradford Alhambra alongside Billy Pearce and Lynda Bellingham.

Brian was originally thinking he would be involved in rehearsals, and the blocking, then spend a few shows out front being Ray’s “Eyes & Ears” as the show opened. He’s not sure how it has happened but he now glides across the stage as a Hotel Concierge, shifts the furniture along with Ray and everyone else, and does a few dozen things each show before he gets to go home! It is so great to see him- it has been far too long!


Kathryn Rooney at the Ian Sandy Show Birmingham- Andrew Ryan & Myself with Jonathan Kiley, Brian and Lesley

Having run out of Dames, I could move on to Principal Girls! Kathryn Rooney plays Maria, the sparky Spanish maid. At one point in the production she ends up… Ah, it wouldn’t be fair to reveal the comedy business. Far better to go see it yourself!


Kathryn with Brian and Andrew

Kathryn has finished Panto alongside Brian Conley, Lesley Joseph (She has toured in Calendar Girls with Lesley several times)and Andrew Ryan in Southampton- their second year in “Robinson Crusoe”, having transferred the show from the Birmingham Hippodrome the previous year.


Kathryn and Co in Calendar Girls!

Kathryn’s musicals and plays have included “Buddy”, “Beauty and The Beast” and pantomime roles from Snow White to Magical Mermaids in Stoke, Wolverhampton, Newcastle and around the UK. Kathryn very kindly organised a quick “Get Together” meal after the matinee so we could catch up with her, Brian and a mate of mine from way back in the Swansea Grand Theatre Rep days, Jean Fergusson.

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Jean Fergusson is known to millions for her portrayal of Marina, the bicycle riding man hunting comedy character from “The Last Of The Summer Wine”. She appeared in this hit series for Twenty Seven years, until it ended in 2010.

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Jean was held hostage in “Coronation Street” with our Chesney when she played Dorothy Hoyle- her second role in the hit soap, and was nominated for an Olivier award for her show “She Knows You Know” at the Vaudeville Theatre- she has played the comedienne Hylda Baker countless times, and has written a book about her comic idol.

No stranger to Pantomime, Jean has been Fairy Godmother and Fairy in dozens of pantomimes, including Wimbledon and recently The Floral Pavilion New Brighton.

We saw a fantastic high energy show with a plethora of door slamming, and enjoyed a great get together afterwards between shows, leaving our chums heading back to the Menier Stage Door to do it all again to another sold-out house!




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