There's No Place Like a Home

Paul Elliott
Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford, and touring
(2006)

The author is not an actor, and presumably has never inhabited an actors’ retirement home, but being a theatrical producer of long standing (known as the ‘panto king’) he has been around performers long enough to know how they behave and in this, his first play, he has drawn his characters with sure if rather over-simplistic pencil strokes – or maybe a paintbrush as they are a very colourful collection.

The cast are all well known figures of stage and screen and the many references to their previous characters brought appreciative laughter from the (I suspect mainly theatrical) audience. Sadly comedy legend Dora Bryon had to pull out of the show due to the increasing ill health of her husband, but her good friend Joan Savage has taken over and is an excellent alternative, demonstrating not only her acting talents and beautiful singing voice, but she also has a marvellously wicked impersonation of Margaret Thatcher.

As is the way with actors, they may be in a retirement home, but none of them have retired – of course not – they are just resting until the next part comes along, and poor bewildered Harold (Playschool’s Brian Cant, and my favourite character) is constantly convinced that he has a matinee that afternoon and he must be prepared for it, although in more lucid moments he is the most sensible one of the lot, deriding their perception of themselves – and especially the crazy plan they have devised.

Due to lack of funds the home is to be closed down – doesn’t that sound familiar? – and there is consternation among the residents. Where will they all go? What will become of them? Luckily (or otherwise) they have a diminutive criminal among them, ringmaster Bobby (Mike Edmonds) constantly training his invisible dogs, and he is in his element setting up a master plan. They will kidnap a rich celebrity and demand a ransom – what could be simpler! Des O’Connor was dismissed because “The public would be so grateful” and they settle on Jeffrey Archer. A better choice? Well, he is rich!

There is plenty of scope here for old jokes to surface – perfectly acceptable in the context – and bursts of song, dance and piano playing are part of life, including some very flamboyant posturing from Tony Adams as Kevin, all ridiculed by the others who have heard it all before, while ventriloquist Ray Alan’s dummy just has to be a sailor called Willy. “‘Nuff said!”

Gordon Kaye has abandoned his well remembered French accent in favour of the slightly sardonic tones of Alan Bennett, and his ‘Allo, Allo’ co-star Sue Hodge manages to be very funny despite appearing down to earth and sensible as the maid/housekeeper.

Alan Miller Bunford’s set of a retirement home lounge, where this motley crew reside, is the most elegant, well furnished and well decorated one I have ever seen with a sweeping curved staircase and a stair lift. No wonder they don’t want to leave. Do they succeed in their plan? Well, of course they do – this is a happy show, but with a serious message, a plea to help the Combined Theatrical Charities who provide such places.

Now that the residents have money – not from their crime, but from a lottery – ‘Willy’ is now to become aristocratic and be known as Lord Charles, and he has the last word………”Silly Arse!” Which neatly sums up the show. Not a play to win any prizes, but good clean nostalgic fun.

Touring to Stoke on Trent, Malvern, Wycombe, Plymouth, Nottingham, Bromley, Brighton, Southampton and Cardiff.

Sheila Connor