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Stars come out for cameos as The Mill at Sonning renames theatre in honour of playwright Ray Cooney

The new sign to The Ray Cooney Auditorium at The Mill at Sonning Picture: Phil Creighton

A GALAXY of surprise cameos delighted audiences at a special gala performance of Two Into One on Saturday night.

The Mill at Sonning hosted the evening event as it named its auditorium in honour of the playwright behind the show, Ray Cooney.

The funnyman turned serious when he learnt of The Mill’s situation during covid, offering practical support to help keep the dinner-theatre going during lockdowns.

The independent venue, like all theatres, had had to shut down due to covid, causing the cancellation of many events as well as plays some of which have been rearranged.

The current production, Two Into One, opened on August 5, and runs until October 9. Normally, it stars, among others, former Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry, Brookside star Steven Pinder and Endeavour actor Carol Royle. But the star-studded audience at the gala were treated to some star turns from actors who had appeared in previous Cooney farces.

They included Only Fools and Horses’ Sue Holderness, Hi-de-hi’s Jeffrey Holland and his wife Judy Buxton. Others popping up were Anita Graham, Nick Wilton and Michael Cochrane.

Audience members included Debbie McGee and former Avengers Linda Thorson, as well as actors and cast members associated with previous Cooney shows.

After the performance, the Mill’s managing director, Sally Hughes, took to the stage to thank the actors for their performance, particularly those making cameo appearances, and Ron Aldridge who directed the show.

“In 1989, in my never-ending quest to find plays that guarantee good audiences and entertainment, I decided to go after this West End success, Run For Your Wife,” she told audiences. “I don’t know how, but I got the rights.”

And the show that was staged nearly turned to disaster, after director and actor in the play, Dennis Ramsden, had been rushed to hospital and they had no understudy. But it was Ray Cooney that came to the rescue.

“We felt the safe, warm arms of Ray Cooney … he heard about our plight and sent his own understudy from the West End to go on stage that night. He rescued us. Thank you Ray.”

That was the beginning of a “special bond” that has lasted 32 years, with a Ray Cooney play performed every year.

“They’re just wonderful audience pieces, clever and .. usually full houses, but not this year sadly because of social distancing,” Ms Hughes continued. “But next year, this very month, there will be a Ray Cooney play on this stage and we will be playing to full houses.

“Ray is the master of comedy, but he is also the most kind and generous man. That became evident last year when covid struck and (for) The Mill, it was like we were in freefall. I didn’t know if we were going to survive and Ray came to our rescue again and in a really big way. Thank you.”

The evening also paid tribute to some actors and Mill staff who “have sadly gone to that green room in the sky”, with plaques unveiled for them, including Ms Hughes parents, Tim and Eileen Richards.

“They found this building, and they built this theatre here, they’ve left this legacy and I hope we can be here for another 32 years.”

To a standing ovation, Mr Cooney came to the stage and, after a soft shoe shuffle that had the audience in stitches, he said: “I so admire what Sally Hughes does”.

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