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Jul 8th

The Hollow at The Mill at Sonning

By Clare Brotherwood


Mention the name Brian Blessed and we all expect something… BIG!

And last night we had that in so many ways, even though the larger than life actor sat quietly in the back row of the auditorium.

For it is at the pretty Thameside dinner theatre that Blessed is making his directorial debut.

For a start, The Hollow stars the second biggest cast The Mill has ever accommodated. The play also lasts longer than most - not that the first night audience was complaining. But, most notably, Blessed has a big hit on his hands!

Given his personality you’d be forgiven for thinking that his production would gallop along - but no. Agatha Christie’s classic thriller is nicely paced and totally absorbing, though there are some quirky touches which has Brian Blessed written all over them and, as Lady Angkatell, the lady of the house, Blessed’s wife Hildegard Neil certainly knows how to interpret her husband’s comic side. In the midst of murder, her portrayal of the forgetful wife of a former governor in India is not only endearing but very funny.

It’s a family affair. Among the 12-strong cast is Rosalind Blessed, Neil and Blessed’s daughter who has inherited her father’s big personality, just right for the part she plays - Henrietta, a sculptress and mistress of the murder victim.

I’m not giving the game away here. The doctor, John Cristow, has many enemies, not least a Hollywood film star (and his former fiancee) who has moved into a cottage down the lane from The Hollow where Lady and Sir Angkatell (played by a distinguished Terence Wilton) are hosting a weekend house party. Given that George Clooney has moved into the village (and has visited the Mill), a knowing chuckle rippled through the audience when Sir Angkatell referred to the Hollywood film star at the end of the lane. Was that in the original script I wonder or a Blessedism!

It is, of course, a whodunnit: was it the film star, the selfish, scheming Veronica Craye, played by Leanne Rowe with a wonderful brittleness; the somewhat weak Edward (Alexander Neal), owner of the family estate, who is in love with Henrietta; shop girl Midge (played by Francesca Regis with a wholesome freshness), who is in love with Edward; the doctor’s wife, the nervy, subservient Gerda, played with great feeling by Emily Stride (daughter of the late, great Susan Sheridan); or even the butler, Gudgeon, portrayed with great aplomb and dignity but not without a little bit of wickedness by George Telfer. The only character out of the frame is the sweet maid Doris, who is eager to please everyone, and making her stage debut inthe part is Angharad Berrow who does just that with her enthusiastic performance.

The cast is completed by Jason Riddington’s tremendous, egotistical performance as John Cristow; Oliver Ashworth as the star-struck DS with an eye for the girls, and the authoritative but understanding police inspector (Noel White).

As always, the set is exquisite, this time thanks to Dinah England, and I love the nod to the early fifties in which the play is set, with old radio recordings of Happidrome, Workers Playtime and Elsie and Doris Waters.

So, well done to everyone, especially Brian Blessed. You’ve reached the peak of another Everest; in fact, the Universe is your oyster!


The Hollow at The Mill at Sonning continues until September 3

Box office: 0118 969 8000

Jul 6th

The Ladykillers at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood


What is there not to love about The Ladykillers? Originally a 1955 Ealing Comedy starring

Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers, Graham Linehan’s (creator of Father Ted) stage adaptation made its debut in 2011 with, as I remember, the set being as memorable as the cast headed by former Dr Who Peter Capaldi and the ever delightful Marcia Warren.

The Windsor Repertory Company obviously doesn’t have the funds of a West End production but it is every bit as enjoyable in its own way.

Hilary Harwood is impressive as Mrs Wilberforce, the genteel old lady who thinks she’s letting a room to the conductor of a string quartet when, in fact, he’s the leader of a gang planning a robbery. You can almost smell the lavender water as she walks stiffly about the stage, speaking in that precise way old ladies of the fifties sometimes did.

The action takes place in Mrs Wilberforce’s house which is situated over a railway tunnel at King’s Cross. Only a crooked picture gives a taste of the lopsided dwelling but its close proximity to the station is emphasised by surround sounds of steam trains even before the curtain goes up.

Every single character adds something to this quirky, farcical black comedy, even Julie Ross’s very small part as Mrs Wilberforce’s haughty friend Mrs Tromleyton.

Tom McCarron is charming as the leader of the gang; Danny Lane hilarious but endearing as the punch-drunk ex-boxer One Round; Chris Kiely terrifying as the psychopathic Romanian; Chris Casey almost lovable as the pill-popping Harry, and as Major Courtney, the closet transvestite and con-man, Russell Anthony really conned me into thinking he was an officer and a gentleman.

There is plenty of fun and games to be had in this production, not to mention a plethora of killings - look out for the knife that goes through On Round’s head. I certainly didn’t see that coming.


The Ladykillers continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until July 9.

The Windsor Repertory Festival ends with Pygmalion from July 12-16

Box office: 01753 853888

Jul 5th

The Mousetrap @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye

When The Mousetrap opened in the West End after a short tour on 25th November 1952, Agatha Christie reckoned that her play would run for eight months.  Producer, Peter Saunders, was slightly more optimistic predicting a run of 14 months.  How astounded would they be now to see that 64 years later the play is still running in the West End, with a tour around the UK?

On 13th September 1957, the play achieved ‘longest running straight play in the West End’, which prompted Noel Coward to send a spiky message to Agatha ‘Much as it pains me, I really must congratulate you!’ But that was just the beginning of its most extraordinary record breaking achievements. The 50th anniversary was on 25th November 2002 and the performance was attended by HM The Queen and Prince Philip.  In its 60th year on 18th November 2012, the play reached an astounding 25,000 performances!  It was in this year that the first UK tour set out, but the play continued to run at St Martin’s Theatre, which has been its home since transferring from The Ambassadors Theatre in 1974, without a break in the run.  It also toured the Far East in 2013.

The big star names in the original cast were Richard Attenborough playing Det Sgt Trotter and his wife, Sheila Sim, who played Mollie.  Over 400 actors have played in The Mousetrap in the last 64 years, so it has certainly given a lot of jobbing actors regular work opportunities.

This touring production has only one ‘name’ at the moment and that’s Louise Jameson, who plays Mrs Boyle.  Louise is best known for her roles in Doctor Who, Bergerac, EastEnders and Doc Martin.  The Mousetrap though is bigger than any ‘names’, so long as the actors are good, then people will still flock to see the play, rather than its stars.

The characters are two-dimensional and the lines a bit clunky and full of clichés, so it’s not that easy to make the part your own.  Gregory Cox, playing the flamboyant Mr Paravicini, though did manage to lift the energy from a quite lack-lustre Monday evening show.

Agatha Christie was perhaps as baffled as everyone else by the show’s enduring appeal, but offered the following analysis ‘it is the sort of play you can take anyone to.  It’s not really frightening.  It’s not really horrible.  It’s not really a farce, but it has a little bit of all these things and perhaps that satisfies a lot of different people.’

Check out tour dates on and tick this one off your bucket list!

Reviewed by:
Yvonne Delahaye

Jun 29th

My Cousin Rachel at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

As leading lady Jessica Kent told the opening night audience, the Theatre Royal Windsor is spearheading repertory theatre, keeping rep alive - and so may it continue.

The fourth in the Windsor Repertory Festival of six plays in six weeks is still drawing in the locals as company members continue to show their versatile talents.

This week they are taking us to 19th century Cornwall where Daphne du Maurier created the story of Philip Ashley. Philip’s life drastically changes when his older cousin Ambrose, who has brought him up, travels to Florence where he meets and marries a long lost cousin - and then suddenly dies.

What follows is a mystery romance, which some say is better than Rebecca, as suspicion and rival jealousies turn everyone’s world upside down.

The play gets off to a strong start with some magnificent thunder and lightning, but on the opening night the incidental music did sometimes end too suddenly instead of fading away and the sound effects of horses hooves also came and went too suddenly and gave the riders no time to dismount and appear at the door.

The strongest performance comes from Tim McFarland as Philip who, despite wearing a costume which is too big for him, gives his all as a lively young pup who lets his heart rule his head with a childish passion.

Charlotte Haines, though a bit too quietly spoken for some ears, is perfect as the daughter of Philip’s guardian - a proper young lady but with jealousies bubbling just below the surface.

In this rather dark tale, it is the servants, Seecombe and James, who are particularly memorable, however, injecting a much needed dose of comedy. Jeremy Bennett as Seecombe, is your archetypal old retainer while Stanley Eldridge almost overdoes it as the slow-witted younger servant James.

My Cousin Rachel is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until July 2. The Windsor Repertory Festival then continues with:

July 5-9: The Ladykillers

July 12-16: Pygmalion

Box Office: 01753 853888

Jun 15th

Deadly Nightcap at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood


From the buzzing audience and hearty applause at the end of the first night of their second production, it looks like the Windsor Repertory Festival is already a great success.

Part of the fun of a repertory season is getting to know the actors - which is this case is enhanced by the cast making an appearance in the foyer at the end of the evening - and trying to spot who’s who.

It’s not an easy task. Last week the actors were all singing-all dancing in the award-winning comedy One Man, Two Guvnors. This week the mood is much darker. In fact, it couldn’t be darker, what with murder, intrigue, lies and deceit in this eighties psychological thriller penned by master of mystery, Francis Durbridge.

The actors are unrecognisable from their previous roles, which is of course down to their talents and versatility. Especially so is Hannah Vesty who, last week was a mini-skirted assistant with a beehive hairdo who showed she’s a really competent hoofer. This week she has gone up in the world, reminding me of Kirsty Alsopp, playing a best friend who has her own TV cookery programme. Then there’s Cerise Hine who, last week, played her gangster brother. This week she’s a chatty housekeeper, while David Muscat, last week a gangster, is this week a caring doctor and Anton Tweedale, also a gangster last week, is now a detective.

All is not what it seems in this play of twists and turns, and to divulge any of the plot would spoil the surprises. But it’s well executed under the direction of Claire Evans, and is a hugely enjoyable not so much a whodunnit but how will he/she get away with it. Though the story certainly doesn’t end there!


Deadly Nightcap is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until June 18. The Windsor Repertory Festival then continues with:

June 21-25: Bedroom Farce

June 28-July 2: My Cousin Rachel

July 5-9: The Ladykillers

July 12-16: Pygmalion

Box Office: 01753 853888

Jun 8th

One Man, Two Guvnors at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

A drama of a different kind took centre stage at Windsor’s Theatre Royal last night when the audience had to be evacuated because of flash flooding.

But the adverse weather conditions were nothing compared to the thunderous applause the Windsor Repertory Company would most surely have received for their spirited production of Richard Bean’s award-winning comedy One Man, Two Guvnors.

Nothing could detract from this energetic, and hilarious rendition, which got the Windsor Repertory Festival of six plays in six weeks off to a splendid start.

I’d already seen this in London’s West End and Andrew Beckett’s performance as Francis Henshall will remain in my memory just as much as James Cordon’s. Instantly loveable, this bundle of fun is a human dynamo as he throws himself about the stage, endearing himself to us as he becomes increasingly confused as to which gangster he is working for. It’s just as well his part is so physical as Henshall is obsessed with food and Beckett has to consume quite an amount during each performance!

Under Paul Taylor-Mills expert direction, the rest of the cast also come up to the mark. I especially like Jonathan Ray’s OTT performance as the theatrical Alan Dangle, and Anton Tweedale as Alfie, the 87-year-old arthritic waiter whose slow progress across the stage is a thing of wonder.

Song and dance plays a part too, with Hannah Vesty as Dolly doing a great routine. Oh, and there’s a bit of audience participation, quite apart from the flooded front stalls!

In the hands of the Windsor Repertory Company, One Man, Two Guvnors is unbridled madness and I can’t wait to see what these versatile performers come up with in the following weeks. Certainly they have a diverse programme, but then, that’s how actors learned their trade back in the day.

The Windsor Repertory Company was first created in 1938 by John Counsell,  the late owner of the Theatre Royal (his daughter actress Elizabeth Counsell was present last night) and last year, to celebrate 200 years of the Theatre Royal Windsor, weekly rep was revived to critical acclaim. Let’s hope other theatres will take its lead.

One Man, Two Guvnors is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until June 11. The Windsor Repertory Festival then continues with:

June 14-18: Deadly Nightcap

June 21-25: Bedroom Farce

June 28-July 2: Jamaica Inn

July 5-9: The Ladykillers

July 12-16: Pygmalion

Box Office: 01753 853888

May 26th

Laila The Musical at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

Laila has everything you want from a musical - and more.

Pravesh Kumar’s sensitive interpretation of the age-old tale of Laila Majnu, together with memorable music and songs, a simple but stylish set and a talented cast, deserves to be in a West End theatre.

But this show has much more to offer than most musicals. Asia’s rich culture and traditions, its haunting sufi music and pulsating Bhangra beat seamlessly blend with modern day British life and its music.

That’s not all. Though the story of star-crossed lovers - 700 years older than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but with many similarities - will bring a lump to your throat, award-winning RIFCO’s production has some hilarious moments which wouldn’t look out of place in pantomime. The scene in which some gloriously camp courtiers cavort around the stage particularly had the audience in stitches, while Laila’s cruel brother fits perfectly into the role of the out and out villain.

I don’t normally empathise with the characters in musicals. I view them very much as giving a performance. Because they are singing their stories they never seem real to me. But with Laila I became totally absorbed. In the title role, Mona Goodwin’s pure, soaring voice really touches the heartstrings, while it is easy to see why she should fall in love with Qays, played by Reece Bahia, with his boy band good looks and passionate performance.

Award-winning Surrinder ‘Shin’ Singh Parwana, one of the most prominent British Asian vocalists in the UK, exudes energy as Qays’s kindly father but later shows he is capable of much more when he transforms into the camp but cruel prince who marries Laila.

Every member of the cast and the crew have pulled together to make this a vibrant, colourful spectacle on one hand and a beautifully presented, intimate love story on the other.


Laila The Musical is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until May 28.

Box Office: 01753 853888


It then ends its tour:

May 31-June 4: The Lowry, Salford

May 20th

The Sound of Music @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye


There are some things that have become an essential part of Christmas time, panto, crackers, dramatic soap storylines and, of course, The Sound of Music.  Released in 1965, following its adaptation of the 1959 Broadway musical, it starred Julie Andrews and Christopher Plumber and  has become the most successful movie musical in history. It all began with the story of the Trapp Family Singers and Baroness Maria von Trapp’s 1949 autobiography, which inspired Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse to create a Broadway musical in 1959. The Sound of Music tells the true story of the world-famous singing family, from their romantic beginnings and search for happiness, to their thrilling escape to freedom as their beloved Austria became part of the Third Reich at the start of WWII.

The unforgettable score features some of the most memorable songs ever performed on stage, including Edelweiss, My Favorite Thing, Do-Re-Mi, Climb Ev’ry Mountain, So Long, Farewell and of course, the title song, The Sound of Music. This touring stage production is produced by Bill Kenwright, directed by Martin Connor, choreographed by Olivier Award winner Bill Deamer, with musical direction by David Steadman.  Gary McCann has created a wonderfully lavish, clever set recreating the abbey and house against a stunning backdrop depicting the mountains beyond.

BBC1’s The Voice runner-up and award-nominated Lucy O’Byrne stars in the role of Maria in this spectacular five-star production.  Lucy O’Byrne became a household name when she shot to success as the runner-up in the live shows of the TV talent show. With chart-topper as her mentor, and biggest fan, Lucy made history as the first classical singer to reach the final, impressing the nation with her stunning vocal range. Now, having recently performed at the BBC Proms, she makes her musical debut as the young postulant, Maria. Her first album, Debut, was released earlier this month.  Lucy has a warmth, charm and energy perfectly suited to Maria and once settled into the role, proved she deserved to be playing the lead.

Captain Von Trapp is played by Andrew Lancel, best known for his roles in Coronation Street as Frank Foster (for which he won Villan of The Year at the British Soap Awards) and as DI Neil Manson in The Bill.  This is Andrew’s first musical and was only his second performance since taking over the role, so he did look a bit uncomfortable at times.  He does have a nice baritone voice though and I’m sure once he settles into the role he’ll start to relax and enjoy it. 


Photo: Pamela Raith, courtesy of The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

Someone who looked completely relaxed and at ease with himself and the role was Duncan Smith as Max and I loved his camp performance.  The show was completely stolen for me by Jan Hartley as Mother Abbess whose sublime rendition of Climb Every Mountain, shook the theatre as she hit that top D, now that really is a voice that deserves to be heard!  The rest of the cast includes Isla Carter (Baroness Elsa), Kane Verrall (Rolf), Annie Horn (Liesl), Zoe Ann Brown (Sister Margaretta), Kate Scott (Sister Berthe), Tammy Davies (Sister Sophia), Jude Neill (Ursula), Anouska Eaton (Baroness Elberfeld), Jon de Ville (Franz), Pippa Winslow (Frau Schmidt), Scott Ainslie (Admiral von Schreiber), Piers Bate (Baron Elberfeld) and Lewis Barnshaw.

If you love the film (and who doesn’t?), this production is a ‘must see’.  The heart-warming love story translates perfectly to the stage, the singing is divine and the operatic tones at times, particularly in the choral harmonies in the abbey, seem heavenly. 


For tour details and to book tickets, visit



Reviewed by:

Yvonne Delahaye



May 13th

It Runs in the Family at The Mill at Sonning

By Clare Brotherwood

It Runs in the Family has been tickling our funny bones since 1987 - and after the opening night performance of The Mill at Sonning’s latest production I’d say it’s still the perfect prescription for a pick me up.

 I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much. I really did laugh til I cried. We all know Ray Cooney is the master of mirth but even his scripts would be nothing without a director and actors who can deliver the goods, and Ron Aldridge and his cast went straight into their first performance with gusto, galloping along at a cracking pace and with perfect timing. It was an absolute delight and I felt privileged to be in the audience.

Set in the doctors’ common room of a London hospital, the play charts the mishaps of Dr David Mortimore who is about to give a lecture at an international conference. Enter an old flame who tells him he has an 18-year-old son desperate to meet him, but with Mortimore’s wife and the crusty chairman of the board of governors in the mix, the situation quickly descends into the usual Cooney chaos with lots of banging doors, entrances and exits, and oddball characters talking themselves into impossible situations.

At the centre of the plot as Dr Mortimore is Harry Gostelow who delivers an impassioned performance, fielding everything that is thrown at his character. But then every member of the cast gives 110 per cent and makes the most of what they have to play with, especially Nick Wilton who is outstanding as Dr Hubert Bonney - he puts so much in his performance I worry he’ll blow a gasket! Even Brian Hewlett as the wheelchair-bound Bill steals a scene or two with a part which could so easily have just been a cameo role.

It Runs in the Family is just what the doctor ordered. Miss it at your peril!

It Runs in the Family is at The Mill at Sonning until July 2.

Box Office: 0118 969 8000

May 10th

Jekyll and Hyde at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

When it comes to setting the scene, talkingScarlet’s production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale couldn’t be much more basic.

Geoff Gilder’s set is simple, almost amateurish, but adaptor and director Nicholas Briggs’ original music and David North’s lighting create an atmosphere which sends shivers down your spine.

Not a lot has been spent on costumes, either, and although the cast includes some worthy actors they seem limited in what they can do. Even during the transformation scene where Jekyll turns into Hyde, Gary Turner can do nothing but scream and shout (which he does well enough to chill the blood!) until the lights go out and you see him changing places with Andrew Fettes, who plays a menacing Mr Hyde, his face usually hidden in a muffler or a mask. A second changing of places later in the play is much more fluid.

But it’s not all bad. I like the way RLS’s story of the good doctor who creates a concoction which changes him into his evil alter ego is presented. Mostly it is related by Jekyll’s lawyer, Gabriel Utterson, as he recounts his friend’s story to burly police inspector Newcomen (Ben Crowe) with the help of flashbacks. In the main, the actors seem too young for their characters but Neil Roberts as the lawyer does carry some authority.

As the production is only in the second week of a long tour, I trust it’ll soon settle down and come together. I wish it well.


Jekyll and Hyde is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until May 14

Box Office: 01753 853888

The tour then continues:

May 23-25: Playhouse Theatre, Weston Super Mare

June 8-11: Haymarket, Basingstoke

June 13-15: Lyceum Theatre, Crewe

June 23-25: Palace Theatre, Newark

July 5-9: Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne

August 9-13: Grand Theatre, Swansea

August 16-20: Buxton Opera House

August 23-27: Churchill Theatre, Bromley

September 6-10: Grand Theatre, Blackpool

September 12-13: Wyvern Theatre, Swindon

September 15-17: The Core at Corby Cube

September 18-20: Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells

September 21-23: Dundee Repertory Theatre

September 30-October 1: Marina Theatre, Lowestoft