HE’S CLIMBED mountains, taken on space dictators and become an expert on Agatha Christie, but last Friday, Brian Blessed became a show-off, all for a good cause.
The veteran actor was visiting The Mill at Sonning to celebrate its forthcoming season – where he will once again turn director – with friends, supporters and fellow thespians.
And it was his supporting role that took his audience by surprise.
Mr Blessed held aloft paintings by Picasso and Lautrec. Well, almost. For these are two incredibly convincing fakes which have been donated by Laurie Marsh to the Mill as part of a special competition.
The Mill’s managing director, Sally Hughes, told the assembled crowds that the two paintings would be given to the person who gives the most support to its campaign for the dinner theatre’s Christmas production of Singin’ In The Rain.
She said: “Joseph Pitcher our director said to me last week, ‘We are going to make this a show the like of which no Sonning audience has ever seen’. To do this we need sponsorship.”
A block of seats on the opening night will be reserved for £1,000 each, and entitles the bearer to visit rehearsals and previews, enjoy a first-night Champagne party and have the buyer’s names in the programmes. Those who buy four or more seats will become a Mill Angel and have a plaque installed on one of the theatre’s seats.
Ms Hughes also gave a report on the theatre’s renovation programme which has included, appropriately for a theatre, “all-singing ovens” as part of a kitchen revamp and enhancements to the ladies’ toilets.
She said: “[The Mill is] the most gorgeous and precious Grade II listed building which is allowing us to operate as a theatre at this moment in time. Renovated 40 years ago by my parents Tim and Eileen Richards we, the occupiers are its guardians for years to come. As you can see I am rather passionate about it.
“The past four years, I have put the profits of The Mill back into the building. There is still much more to do.”
To help fund the enhancements, the dinner theatre is launching a grand prize draw in addition to the seat funding scheme.
And the event was also a chance to preview forthcoming productions, with Private Lives opening on Thursday, June 20 – one of Ms Hughes’ favourite Noel Coward plays.
Then, from August 6, Brian Blessed will be returning to direct Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero.
On October 3, a Ray Cooney-directed version of his own farce Run For Your Wife opens. This will star Mill favourites Jeffrey Holland, Judy Buxton, Elizabeth Elvin and Nick Wilton.
Singin’ In The Rain will open on Thursday, November 30 and run through to February. And yes, the stage will get a little bit wet during the performance of the titular song.
“Before announcing this show I asked ‘the rain man’ to visit. Alasdair Elliott who has
created the rain effect for West End productions,” said Ms Hughes. “In fact for just about every production of the musical across the globe, both large and small venues.
“It was a bit like waiting for the man from Delmonte to say yes. He declared it was possible to make it rain on The Mill’s stage. So here we go. A lot of work to do. But exciting.
“Tickets really are going fast.”
And the event was rounded off by a short and witty speech by the president of the Friends of The Mill club, Simon Williams, who praised Ms Hughes vision for the much-loved venue.
“You have such a lovely run of autumn plays,” he said, adding that he’d been to see a production of Singin’ In The Rain performed at the Kenton Theatre by the Henley Amateur Operatic Society.
“I sat in the front row and I got thoroughly drenched,” he admitted.
For more details, or to book, call The Mill at Sonning on 0118 969 8000 or log on to www.millatsonning.com