It's hardly surprising there's a friendly feel about Paul Elliott's new play There's No Place Like A Home, which opens at Blackpool Grand Theatre tonight.
There’s a cast of familiar names like Gorden Kaye, Ken Morley, Don McLean, Christopher Beeny, Peter Byrne, Brian Cant, Sue Hodge and Jan Hunt.
“We were actually going to advertise it as “come and see this play if you thought we were dead” but thought we might be tempting fate,” says Gorden Kaye, who is probably still best known for his portrayal of Rene in the BBC’s highly successful comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo!
It’s a return to the play for most of the cast. Last year it toured for three months, this year it’s on the road for 10 weeks and after that Gorden says “who knows what will happen?”
Based on Elliott’s experiences as a celebrated international theatrical producer, the backstage tales he’s heard and the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund retirement home Brinsworth House, There’s No Place Like A Home follows a host of erstwhile TV personalities as they embark on a daring escapade.
They are all residents of the Stollberg Hall Retirement Home for Theatrical Performers. But the place is under threat of closure. What will become of the grand old house and its grander residents?
They do what any self-respecting company of former household-name entertainers would do… devise a plan to kidnap a celebrity and demand a ransom to save their precious and much loved home.
“I’ve been to Brinsworth visiting a few times and there is a hint of that about the play – though it’s residents are actually rather older than us,” admits Gordon.
Last year’s show had a cast of 13, this year it’s down to 12 but Gorden reckons “it’s slightly better than last time, a bit slicker – and it really is a fun play to be in.”
Born in Huddersfield and having started his theatrical career at the Bolton Octagon, Gorden admits to being a long time fan of Blackpool.
“I’m glad we are in time to catch the last of the Illuminations,” he said. “Some of the cast were a bit worried that people might be in short supply or too busy looking at the Lights – but I’ve assured them there’ll be an audience!”
After the tour he says he will be taking a break – and certainly not joining the pantomime gravy train.
“I’ve done a few in my time but it’s just not real enough for me. I like to make my characters breathe and walk about. I like to face my audience and talk to them.”
Before becoming Rene, Gorden played the part of Bernard Butler in 54 episodes of Coronation Street and characters in Are You Being Served, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Last of the Summer Wine. On stage, he has been seen in Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and Hobson’s Choice. His film credits include Jabberwocky, Brazil and Porridge.
“Next September I will have been in this business 40 years and sometimes I wonder just where it’s all gone,” he says. “There have been periods when there’s been nothing to do and I’ve waited for the phone to ring like many people – but thankfully I haven’t stopped in a while and when something like ‘Allo ‘Allo comes along it’s regarded as a pension.”
So is Rene a millstone or a milestone?
“It’s still the BBC’s best seller across the world so if people like it dubbed in their own language or kept in ours and subtitled it must say something about the show,” he says. “And we get a few bob out of it. Acting is a living like any other. It’s what we do until we can’t – so it’s wonderful to be paid for something you enjoy doing.”
But it can have its downside too. “I can’t say I’ve never regretted becoming an actor. There are periods of uncertainty and people think you are only working two or three hours a day. They expect you to be bright and breezy all the time – but then they’ve paid to see you and they’ve put you where you are.”
As for the future he has a few irons in the fire – one of which is a stage revival of ‘Allo ‘Allo.
“Three of us from the cast did an Australian tour this year and it may be happening again next year.” As for ambitions – he doesn’t want to play King Lear but would like to gave a crack being a bad guy.
“I’d like to play a mild mannered dope with humourous moments who turns out to be the one who’s dunnit.
“I can be serious and it would be nice to take people by surprise. Then again I enjoy getting a laugh – especially by delivering lines in a certain way.
“Which I suppose is why my employers have kept me in work. And it’s why I love live theatre – there are no re-takes.”
n There’s No Place Like A Home runs at Blackpool Grand Theatre until Saturday.