The Mill at Sonning, the UK’s only dinner theatre, has renamed its theatre The Ray Cooney Auditorium in honour of comedy legend Ray Cooney, whose classic farces have all been performed there, and whose incredibly generous financial support during lockdown helped ensure the venue’s survival.
The ceremony took place this week with a gala dinner and performance of his farce, Two into One, attended by many of the stars who have appeared in his shows at The Mill over the decades.
Artistic Director Sally Hughes said: “In 1989 The Mill produced its first Ray Cooney play, ‘Run For Your Wife’. Dennis Slim Ramsden directed and played the part of Porterhouse. During the run, Slim became ill and was rushed to hospital. Ray sent the understudy down from his West End production to rescue us. That is the moment that the warm and safe arms of Ray Cooney encircled our theatre for the first time. From that moment a special bond was forged between The Mill and Ray. He has helped us in many ways over those 32 years. Whenever we put on a Ray Cooney comedy we sell out and we have performed most of his plays three times. Last year when the future looked bleak Ray came to our rescue – yet again – in a big way. I can’t think of a better way to thank him and for everything he has done for The Mill over three decades than by naming the auditorium after him.”
Ray said: “This evening is the happiest occasion for me for a very long time!”
Sally also paid tribute to many of the great actors who have starred in Ray’s comedies at The Mill, but who have since “gone to that lovely green room in the sky”.
The Mill has had plaques made with the Theatre of Comedy masks engraved with their names and a little saying that sums up each of them.
“Dennis Ramsden and his beautiful wife Christina Russell; Lovely twinkly toes Barry Gosney; outrageous Brian Godfrey; Royce Mills, probably the funniest man that walked this earth; cuddly and equally funny Patrick Monckton; effervescent little Lizzie Edmiston, generous and clever actor Michael Percival and the most extraordinary actor and director, Anthony Valentine. They have all entertained our audiences with their extraordinary talent. I miss them all but they have handed the baton onto the next generation of talent.”
Joining the current cast of ‘Two into One” were guests including Debbie McGee, Jeffrey Holland, Judy Buxton, Wendy Craig, Sue Holderness, Annie Rogers, Michael Cochrane, Anita Graham, Richard Harris, Mark Curry, Carol Royle, Nick Wilton, Jacqueline Clarke and Robert Duncan. Some of them made surprise appearances on the night in the play.
Two in One continues to 9 October, to be followed by The Mill’s celebrated Christmas musical, which this year is Top Hat from 16 October to 8 January.