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John Dudman w 2

Mr Cab-Hoo-Ray, John Dudman wants to hear from more artists for his Care Home shows

Ageless and active is not a bad way to enter 2016 and a Havering Octogenarian could not agree more.

John Dudman, a sprightly 86-year-old, notches up four decades of bringing entertainment to his generation of peers less fortunate than himself and living in care homes and sheltered accommodation.

The former London Electricity board manager swapped the power accounts for entertainment Bills of talent and takes his troupe of entertainers into care homes across Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham and Havering giving shows for the residents.

“I started it back in 1976,” he said. “We called ourselves the Zodiacs and as a group of friends, used to tour the homes and sheltered accommodation for those we were not active and could not get out.”

Admitting to his singing ability with a facial wince and whispered ‘not really’, John’s talent is in hosting and organising performers to give their time and talents for the old folk every Friday throughout the year.

“No I don’t sing really, I stick to comparing the shows and telling the odd joke  with a bit of careful comedy. “

The last phrase is a reference to his standards where comedy is treated with total respect for the audience.

That's Entertainment

That’s Entertainment

“It is so easy to upset people with some of the stand up comedians of today, so we stick to pure entertainment of singers, musicians and dancers,” he said.

Speaking of which, John’s troupe of a dozen is in need of bolstering and he needs more talent for his free shows.

“We entertain,” he said. “That is what we do and we do it for nothing except a cup of tea sometimes.”

The rewards for the artists is in the total and instant appreciation shown every time by the audiences.

“We could not do this if money was involved,” he said. “We do it for the pure enjoyment and the thrill of entertaining appreciative audiences, and they all are very appreciative.”

Over the years his group, now called Cab-Hoo-Ray has been the launch pad for many young performers into a career in the entertainment industry.

“I am very lucky in that the people who join us are very loyal and so impressed with the amount of fun they get out of our shows.

One of the many show casts featuring all kinds of acts

One of the many show casts featuring all kinds of acts

“But it is also the opportunity they get to perfect their act and the magnanimous applause that captivates them every time.”

John is looking for singers, dancers, musicians and entertainers to fill the cast lists for shows throughout the year.

“Each show is fast moving,” he said. “I keep the momentum going with the next act in the wings as the others finish.”

The list of performing skills is limitless and the ages unrestricted with the only criteria being good solid entertainment and have fun doing it.

John would like to hear from any groups or individuals who are prepared to share their talent freely for a generation that has lived full lives and now gently resting.

He can be reached on 0208-551-6853.


When you receive an SOS based on well known musical theatre songs, it demands attention and a second look, because the promise of  a ‘Beautiful Mornin’ is not one to ignore.

Semail leaflet-1henfield Operatic Society, the dynamic group devoted to never doing anything quietly, are in the final approach to performances of the outstanding Rogers and Hammerstein blockbuster, Oklahoma at the Queen’s Theatre in February.

With a huge cast of enthusiastic singers, the quality of their productions is never in any doubt and given the added ambience of the Billet Lane theatre, usually fill the auditorium every time.

Adding to the seats, they also fill the audience with raised glasses with their own brew; ‘Ale-Klahoma’, the bolt on marketing must-have, is a special brew by the  renown Brentwood Brewery Company, much loved by the Real Ale army of hop appreciation fans.

The formidable reputation of the singers is enhanced by hours of painful rehearsal and an open offer for new members to join their swelling ranks.

01. Oh what a beautiful mornin'This production is supporting local charities, First Step based in Hornchurch  and Reach Hippotherapy Centre at Crown Farm Stables in Kelvedon Hatch, both organisations aim is to help  disabled children enjoy as many real-life experiences as possible.

The demanding musical Oklahoma was the first written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein and based on the 1931 stage play by Lynn RiggsGreen Grow the Lilacs.

Reach carols

The players with children from Reach Hippotherapy at Crown Farm Stables in Kelvedon Hatch with Brentwood Mayor Mark Reed

Set in Oklahoma Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906, it tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance with farm girl Laurey Williams. A secondary romance concerns cowboy Will Parker and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie.




The original Broadway production opened on March 1943 and was a box-office smash that ran for 2,212 performances, later enjoying award-winning revivals, national tours, foreign productions and an Academy Award-winning 1955 film adaptation.

LUB sml

With First Step Christmas Bazaar

Helping to build the legend, the music was outstanding with a formidable array of iconic songs including ‘Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’, ‘People Will Say We are In Love’, The Farmer and the Cowhand’, and ‘Oklahoma’.


The show will be at the Queen’s for  five performances from Wednesday February 10 to Saturday February 13, with a matinee performance on Saturday at 2.30 pm. All evening performances begin at 7.30 pm

For tickets contact the Society’s website on or phone the theatre box office on 01708 443333 or Publicity Officer, Suzanne Gunn on 07734 817418.

For more information about First Step, and Reach Hippotherapy, website


HAVERING’S rising star artist with paint and brush, Zoe Clemence,  has just opened her latest exhibition in Hornchurch.

Zoe at exhibition wWith a excellent selection of sparkling acrylic canvas paintings, the exhibition is running until January 23 at the Bar Exhibition Area at the Queen’s Theatre in Billet Lane.

Zoe’s work is a popular choice with collectors forever on the search for artistic work that increases in value.

Blue circle w - Copy

Face w - Copy

Her dynamic paintings have been described as ‘drawing the breath in an attack the senses that rivets the viewer to the spot, as they drink every centimetre of the image’.

Each piece of work is for sale at reasonable prices and will have to stay on display until the closing date.

The exhibition is free to enter during the Queen’s Theatre opening hours which is generally Monday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm.

The mother of two has been drawing since childhood but a chance encounter with a friend encouraged her to start painting.

Fishes w - CopyHer work is from the heart and reflects her interest in spiritual aspects trying to capture the gentle feelings of peace experienced in meditations.

Normally the artist exhibits her work with photographer Barry Kirk, and this is her second exhibition solely of her work and will be followed on February 22 by photographs and paintings by Barry Kirk and new artist to the group, John Lockley from Chadwell Heath. The exhibition will run until March 19.



Little treasures

It is a sure sign of age when a gardening guru gets into the brain and eats it.

The carrot fly free Monty Don, blessed of the BBC and the current replacement for the Geordie bonny-lad, Alan Titchmarsh plus a veritable cabbage patch of presenters, sprang into awareness via a packet of carrot seeds.

As noted ‘The Don’ claims to be fly-free but amid dire warnings of the rascally pests, the accompanying booklet also spoke of planting cabbage, herbs and tomatoes, and as this is the time when those of the fork and spade start to think about getting muddy, a timely warning.

It all seemed so simple, just like watching the amiable and easy going ‘Don’ and his muddy boots, even taking into account his spate of over acting when visiting the Boboli Gardens in one of his TV shows on Italian gardens.

But back to the soil. There should have been a health and wealth warning on the tin as this simple guide has led me to a life of slavery and the establishment of a burst dam in finances.

Having taken note of the carrot fly warnings, I plumbed for tomatoes.

Ahhh, The Nursery

Ahh Bless!

Apparently and according to the ‘Don’ all I needed was a side of the garden shed, grow bag, roll of string and spade.


Child of five could do it, trouble is there is never one around when you need them.

I concentrated on tomatoes as my Sainsbury’s bill was littered with the increasing cost of tinned tomatoes for my Italian style cooking.

I could not believe that the noble fruit was an indicator of the great recession of 2011, but it was certainly a market leader in scrabbling up the price ladder from under 20p a tin to more than double.

By concentrating on one item, I erroneously thought I could keep control of a growth pattern that would reap the benefits of an elegant supply to fill many a Spag-bol, Lasagne and Cannelloni. Unfortunately the elegance descended into chaos as the sweet little plants I put in the seed pots grew into huge triffids that seemed to threaten the very existence of humanity, or in this case a cul-de-sac in Romford.

 The early morning trot out into the small garden with a watering can was quite pleasant in May and the memories of the previous year of snow, hail, thunderstorms, Sodham and Gomorrah that reached into June, were replaced by warming sunshine and low winds. Even the snails were caught napping by the change, but my investment in a warehouse full of Italian Tomato seeds were ready for it.

First born-hatched-fertilised

Success. The first crop

Bought from a family firm specialising in these beautiful objects of desire, the biologist in me estimated a fifty per cent uptake of the minute seeds.


The revered ‘Don’ recommended planting them in a good all round fertiliser and putting each seed in a tray or small plastic triangular shaped receptacles available from most good gardening outlets, or Iceland do-it-yourself lolly kits.

It started to fall apart when the mechanics of getting one seed into a pot failed due to my fingers not made for the delicate separation.

The parental glow of triumph faded daily as the carefully nurtured seeds sprouted and instead of a single plant, they filled the little posts to bursting with numbers that would have worried Bill and Ben.

Number two in the easy guide said to separate them into individual plants.

Taking over

First it started with one mini greenhouse

Whether this first step was the beginning of my downfall, I am not sure, but  ten triffids with waistlines of 40 inches trying to burst out of a small pot the equivalent of 1960’s hipster trousers, was not a pretty sight.


One was bad enough, but when it was realised that the original estimate of uptake for 50 per cent was more like 97 per cent, then emergency measures were needed.

Fortunately I only planted the entire contents of three packets, choosing the fat monsters and the twee little plum pomadores. As the costs and number of small plastic greenhouses and diddy pots rose, so did the number of larger pots required.

World domination in a few weeks

They would not stop growing

The first fatal mistake was to buy small pots. It turned out they have a limited life span as the nutritious and highly expensive Liquid Tomato Food, packed full of nitrates and phosphates, was like peanut butter toast was to Elvis Presley.


One greenhouse turned into two, then three and now four; the pots costing pennies for a tower of six were replaced by pots for the fuller figure at almost a pound each.

The cunning plan of buying even larger pots did not work either. Requiring a special delivery from the garden centre, cramming double figures of plants into one put an added strain on space in my small garden. it now resembles Ali Baba’s laundry but with large streaks of green things lolling over the side.

The next thing to consider was how to make them stand upright. The triffids bone structure was in its early stages and not developed into feet or fingers, bearing a remarkable resemblance to lorry drivers leering from their cabs outside the sixth form college at home time.

Almost an entire forest of bamboo cane was needed plus reams of that nice green string to match the colour of the plants. It goes without saying that a well-dressed tomato plant could not be seen dead without matching accessories.

Success measured by the kilo tonne

The beginnings of a kilo tonne

By now the entire scientific plan of controlled growth had literally gone out of the window. Money for more pots was a daily concern and alternatives like a little used Wok and empty tubs of butter were pressed into service. Even a couple of old saucepans from a much loved set of Graham Kerr specials.


Keeping pace with the growth rate of plants paled into insignificance as it became obvious that the crop volume was also going to be in kilo tonnes rather than the odd jam jar in the freezer.

What do you do with a couple of skips full of red fruit.

Forward planning of preserving, making chutney, tomato sauce, puree  and pesto took the revenue spend into cricket scores, so was this a good idea after all?

Apart from the volume and disruption to house, home and garden, the nurturing of these little fiends has also been fraught with discovery. For instance did you know that you had to pluck suckers out or they would inhibit the growth of your crop.

On paper that sounded fine but identification of what was a sucker was not obvious. In my eagerness to remove said suckers I managed to pluck the growing tip. Experience has now shown that in doing such, the triffid’s headlong vertical climb to adulthood is instantly curtailed to sideways Quasimodo growth with fat gangly tentacles giving an impression of a vulture that has decided to hop to the shops instead of fly.

I now have four redundant mini plastic greenhouses, a wealth of pots of various shapes and sizes that on present estimation would stand rim to rim between Romford and Brentwood, and sufficient fertiliser to create a massive peat bog in rural Romford.

And I have not got to the effect of Tomato Rot fungus yet

Plagued by standing too long in wet boots

Something went wrong

So, in conclusion, the great  Monty The Don has lost his saintly status in my eyes , and due for a an attack of green fly.






Dave Ross outside the new Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. pic Barry Kirk

A modest man who has over the years given so much pleasure to thousands of theatre goers, quietly left the Emporium of his greatest triumphs this week, almost unnoticed and with a modest wave.

Keeping his decision to retire an unspoken secret even from his closest friends, Dave Ross left behind his job as Front of House Manager at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, and a legacy of theatrical history he created with his Community Musicals over the past decades.

The finale of Lighting Up the Lane

The finale of Lighting Up the Lane

The former docker and deep sea diver, moved from London’s east end to Hornchurch some years ago and  started a totally different life style working at the Billet Lane theatre.

Settling into the job he continued the habit of writing notes about personal events and experiences, and whether it was the ambience of theatre life or not, an idea formed in his head to work the scattered scraps of memories up into individual stories. With encouragement from within the Billet Lane venue, the resulting library of musical theatre with each story turned into a separate piece is now firmly embedded into the culture of the borough, starting first as an annual event, and latterly every other year.

A copy of my review of a Tale of Two City's by Dave Ross and starring Steve Lark

A copy of my review of Kings Cross to Killanery by Dave Ross and starring Gemma Salter and Steve Lark

With each production requiring a cast of 60 plus actors drawn from an eager local population, the scale of the endeavour is not to be taken lightly, but each one has become a highlight in the calendar and regularly packed the Queen’s Theatre auditorium during a mid summer week of five performances.

Using his own personal experiences and  imagination, all carefully stirred in with a docker’s raw outlook on life and spiced with a vivid sense of humour, his plays and song lyrics made each musical irresistible for players and audiences alike.

Tale of Two City’s, Bubbles in the Air, Up the Road and Down the River, just three titles of the many, full of humour and a good singsong portraying life as it happened. Dave has that special gift of creating a story that sounds natural and can happen to anyone without over dramatising events.

Over the years others joined him to help write the large scripts and songs, but Dave Ross is the King of Havering writing and recognised borough wide as such.

The Romford Recorder's double page review on Bubble in the Air

The Romford Recorder’s double page review on Bubbles in the Air

Though he has left the theatre, there is no indication that he is putting down the pen, but it would be fair to say that he has not always received the full credit due to such a remarkable talent.

The entertainment industry is a strange place when it comes to egos, personal and otherwise, which alongside such limiting factors as cost of putting on a production, does give a reality check and calming effect on initial enthusiasm.

However it has to be recorded that at the time and now history, there were some dark thoughts abroad that the potential of some of these musicals may have suffered for reasons other than the costs.

One of the musical scenes featuring Steve Probert from Lighting up the Lane

One of the musical scenes featuring Steve Probert from Lighting up the Lane

Rising above all that, in writing his musicals, Dave recognised very early that his stories were local and a large part of the community, something that would have gone unnoticed had it not been for a few inspired directors at the Queen’s.

The alleged gap between professional and non professional may have been a problem created by one side of an ego, but overcome by Dave’s sheer force of personality and undoubted skills in turning a good  story into a theatrical event.

The secret of Dave Ross has always been his ability to extract the reality out of his dialogue, and was not one to shy away from tragedy injected into many of his works that instantly turned laughter to tears. It was this reality in Bubbles in the Air that brought the first half performance to a stunned silence. The audience were shell shocked into immobility and remained in their seats absorbing a classic piece of theatre minutes after the interval curtain fell.

Another big hit, Harry from the Hill. featuring Jake Portsmouth in is first role at the Queen's

Another big hit, Harry from the Hill. featuring Jake Portsmouth in is first role at the Queen’s

The man believes in himself and justifiably so, as he has nothing to prove to those of us who have experienced and taken part in one of his pieces.

Fortunately the fine line between luck and ability was immediately recognised by those who had the power to do something about it; Directors with vision such as Steve Lark, Caroline Bath and latterly Patrick O’Sullivan, all of whom  have had the faith and added their own vision and theatrical skills to the mix.

Never one to hide his face, Dave Ross regularly turned out to support his shows in Romford Market

Never one to hide his face, Dave Ross regularly turned out to support his shows in Romford Market

The emotion generated in everyone after solid months of rehearsals can only be imagined. Weeks after each show final curtain had dropped, it was not unusual to see cast members drive round the theatre trying to recapture those blissful moments when they were a part of something magical and unbelievable.  It was an escape and far removed from the daily slog, that memories still generated moisture in the eyes long after the lights had gone out.

As far as Mr Ross is concerned, this is hopefully not the end, or even the beginning  of the end, more like the inkwell needs refilling.




Not quite what you may think, but an explanation of why I have been absent from my Blog for a while.

Looking for a new challenge, I hit on the idea after trying to choose a holiday this year. Not a new description of the word, but ‘Travelogue’ is by definition a long description of closing your front door with acres of distracting boxes listing plane times to what to ask a Policeman if lost.Florence  Final essay Dec 2 .indd

As for this particular Florence, she is big, welcoming, loaded with treasures and  still beautiful after  years of being plundered and pillaged.

Bless her, but it has been a physical challenge and a great deal of  fun, particularly being released from the narrow parameters of newspaper reporting. I did not have to make my excuses once or  leave at all.

With the additional enjoyment of some floral descriptions wedged into meeting a new country with a girl’s name head on and mixing with the loveable…

View original post 64 more words


Ian Wilkes (left) at the opening of an exhibition of Havering Police at his brainchild, Romford Library in Romford High Street

Ian Wilkes (left) at the opening of an exhibition of Havering Police at his brainchild, Havering Museum in Romford High Street

A friend is someone to treasure and when they pass on you appreciate the untold value of that person and friendship.

Such was with my good friend Ian Wilkes who sadly passed away on Tuesday September 8, aged 83.

We officially met when I joined the Romford Recorder and soon came across the small person whom I immediately nicknamed Bilbo Baggins.

Small in stature, but huge in determination and achievement, he was an impossible act to keep up with let alone follow.

The nickname was an affectionate tag as Ian and I immediately recognised a kindred spirit in each other as well as our challenged distance from the ground up.

A tremendous sense of fun usually delivered with an enormous twinkle in his eye. It was one of those friendships where no offence was ever given or taken.

In Ian I also recognised the enormous talent for theatre, particularly in his constant supply of notes and calls to the newsroom about the Chameleons, a local theatrical group he founded with his wife Pam and Frank Everett.

It was this contact with a superior mind in a Tolkien body that developed in me an early obsession to go on stage; so anyone who has seen me act can blame him.

I did not try to join his group as apart from not letting me anyway, I knew it would be a lost cause as we would never get anything done.

For a time, a Residents’ Association Councillor, one of his ideas I thought had a lot of merit, was the creation of a home for the town’s rich history housed in a dedicated building now called Havering Museum.

It became a mission for him, and with enormous determination, eventually got it off the ground by taking over and developing the offices of the old Romford Brewery in the High Street working tirelessly setting it up.

I even joined the steering committee that set about making the idea into a reality for a short while, but declined his offer of becoming part of the trust because it involved money and I was not in a position to re-mortgage my house.

Another player on the scene at that time was Vernon Keeble Watson. He remembers Ian as a: “Founder member (along with his wife Pam and Frank Everett) of the very successful Chameleons some 60 plus years ago and also one of the driving forces behind the Havering Museum and I believe the Havering Arts Council.

“He was a book publisher too (Ian Henry Publications ) and one of my mentors when I first started doing drama some years ago when I was just aged 20.

“The couples eldest son Nick, is one of College Players members and heavily involved with Shakespeare In The Park specialists, Romford Summer Theatre (RST), Chris (his 2nd son) is also involved in the local drama scene and crews for many of the local companies, like RST and also for the Brentwood Catholic Drama Festival.

When I was asked by Bob Carlton to script a special variety show to celebrate the 50th anniversary at the theatre, Ian was one of the many names I interviewed. He was involved in the Queen’s Theatre in the early days in Station Lane and latterly at Billet Lane, Hornchurch..

The following is a full length version of the interview with him when writing the script and not seen in its entirety before:

“The very nature of the Queen’s theatre in its early days was serving the community as a professional rep, but such was the funding, the ‘management’ had to call on enthusiastic local amateur groups in times of need.

Old Queens in Station Lane, Hornchurch

Old Queens in Station Lane, Hornchurch

“One such occasion was in August 1959 with the production of Arnold Ridley’s Ghost Train.

“The problem was apparently the train itself. The theatre had the company actors, but asked us for help with the train effects.

“The story of a ghostly train thundering through a deepest West Country station in the middle of the night is well known, but the unseen train is the pivotal part of the play.

“The director wanted noise as well as the flashing lights of the carriages as it sped through the station,” said Ian.

“The solution was along the lines of the old joke, how many theatrical producers does it take to change a light bulb? In this case it was seven!

“The flashing lights were down to one of our number with a spotlight and large piece of cardboard which he waved sideways across the light to simulate the passing carriages. The sound effect of train wheels going over points and gaps in the rails came from a wrought iron garden roller being pushed over mathematically placed slats of wood stretched out across the entire back stage.

“On paper and on the first run, it sounded reasonably good, but it soon became apparent that ghostly trains usually thunder angrily through the night and not at rolling the cricket pitch pace. As there was only room for two to push the roller, it took a lot to get the co-ordination between our colleague with the waving card and the speed at which we galloped across the back stage.”

As the train made four appearances during a performance, the enthusiastic amateur players needed all their enthusiasm and energy to not only achieve the effect, but also stop the roller going through the side wall.

“It was perishing hard work as heavy iron rollers are not designed for moving at speed. On the last night we started celebrating the after show party a tad early, and only God knows how we managed to stop the roller, because my memory of that night is clouded.

” As for the seven men required back stage, that was because we could not push the roller back to stage left, so we needed all the muscle to carry the ruddy thing back.”

Though he never acted in the Old Queen’s, Ian and Pam and the Chameleons helped out back stage on many occasions.

“The dressing rooms would have been condemned today. They ran parallel to the width of the theatre, the first were eight mirrors in one, six in the next and the carpenters and set store.

“There were skylights in the dressing room roof, and they leaked. In very bad weather, they might just have not been there, and you could always tell the actors who had drawn the short straw under the leaky skylight by the bedraggled look and trail of wet foot prints they left behind.

“We managed to see a large majority of the productions, and I remember ‘Waiting for Godot’ as one of the most weary to sit through as we were sitting in the not posh two shilling seats at the back where draughts were fast and furious.

“Perhaps the strangest experience was watching the curtain go up on the first act of a play to reveal an empty set. Opposite the theatre was a small café frequented by the actors, and apparently on this particular night someone had forgotten to call them and they were on their way back from the café.

“The orchestra pit, which had to be accessed through the auditorium, was ‘verminous’ and you were never short of company, and towards the end of the theatre’s life, the leaks managed to make their way to the main roof with some seats being un-sellable during bad weather.  

“One of the first amateur groups to take advantage of the old Queen’s was the Dagenham based  Chemical and Pharmacutical group, May and Baker Choral Society, these were followed some years later by the YMCA Choral Society.

“With a huge cast of more than 60 souls, the dressing rooms were an immediate problem. The principal males had the first dressing room, the principal female singers the second, and the rest had to change in the car park.

“Quite a lot of them used to go home with their make-up on as the only hot water was from one old and noisy geezer. It gushed out scalding water for a couple of minutes then remained dormant for ages while it thought about another delivery. Talk about primitive.

“The Queen’s was right for the time. It was usual for rep to produce a play a week, so the Queen’s fortnightly was considered a luxury, but it was during a time when the people wanted to see something different. It was fun to go and to see a comedy, then a tragedy and next a farce.

“Audiences were pretty high and filled a high percentage of the 379 seats.”

Valued memories and I used a lot of them in the script for the show.

Ian’s humour was contagious and that is something I will miss most.

He leaves wife Pam and sons Nick, Chris, Matthew and Jeremy. The funeral and cremation will take place on Monday October 5.




The excellent cast directed by Liz Marsh in Steel Magnolias at the Queen's Theatre

The excellent cast directed by Liz Marsh in Steel Magnolias at the Queen’s Theatre. Picture. Mark Sepple

One of the most powerful pieces of theatre seen in Hornchurch for a long time is creating a tsunami of emotion telling a story rich in heart break.

Steel Magnolias elegantly directed by Liz Marsh, stars six women actors each creating a fascinating window on a true life story about Diabetes, that in two hours does more to advance public awareness of the condition than any advertising campaign.

Skilfully written by Robert Harding, and starring Caire Storey, Gemma Salter, Sarah Mahony, Lucy Wells Tina Gray and Gillian Cally, it is a story based on his sister Susan, and his mother, both of whom he describes as: ‘possessing a tensile strength’ in dealing with type one Diabetes that eventually claimed Susan’s life.

It is a story of tragedy and the way the two women deal with it; a brilliantly observed piece of writing that delves into all the hidden strengths of the characters, with echoes of similar suffering the world over and putting rigid demands on the actors.

Never lacking, the Billet Lane professional company has surpassed itself with this production, with excellent performances on stage and two absolutely outstanding pieces of acting skill from Claire Storey and Gemma Salter.

Playing the main characters, mother M’Lynn, and daughter Shelby, Claire and Gemma take the auditorium through an edge of seat rollercoaster journey of emotions as the condition develops towards a tragic conclusion.

Forgive the cliché, but it does not get better than this.

The rapport between these two is constant and full of electric energy where every expression and look tells of the pain the characters are feeling, skilfully transmitted and beautifully enhancing each word with so much meaning.

Such a rich story not only depends on the actors skills but the location, and where better than an American Beauty Parlour in downtown Louisiana.

This environment and discussions between women is hidden from mere males, but is a perfect background for a group of friends enamoured in female sensitivity, strength and courage in adversity.

Readers could be forgiven for thinking this is a two handed play, but the untold strength of the production is in the foundations created by the other actors.

Sarah Mahony as the ebullient parlour owner, Truvy, a well thought out characterisation that I imaged is cloned from any such establishment.

She was bright, busy, kind and sincere in her need for juicy gossip.

One line from the play that sums up the way gossip is dealt with is: ‘ If you can’t say anything nice about someone, come and sit next to me.’

Tina Gray, first appeared in Hornchurch in 1971 at the Old Queen’s Theatre in Station Lane. This time round she played the Grandee of the parlour, Clairee, who had a delightful way of dealing with humour and sadness in a remarkable characterisation that was a joy to watch.

Lucy Wells played the apprentice hairdresser Annelie, cleverly turning her bumbling adolescent character into a God fearing Christian so full of goodness that spilled out of every pore. A really nice piece of work.

Gillian Cally was the welly booted Blue Mountain homestead character who added such value to the set and curlers. She was so outlandish and stood out like the statue of Liberty smoking a corn cob pipe. Gillian’s characterisation was superbly balanced between TV’s Ma Clampet and Popeye’s Olive Oyl with feelings.

One other point I normally question is the accents and American deep south does not always flow well off the English palate, but I must compliment Dialect Coach Richard Ryder for an excellent job, with the actors making it sound so natural.

This production of Steel Magnolias is one that I cannot recommend highly enough. The acting is west end quality and demands to be seen. If nothing else, this amount of effort and excellence deserves a run of full houses.

The play runs until Saturday October 10 with tickets from the theatre Box office on 01708 443333

Diabetes is a condition long publicly associated with a lump of sugar remedy. It is anything but and a killer that needs much more public awareness and support.

Joe Braeger from Harold Hill suffers from type one Diabetes and advised the actors on the condition; he also runs a local Diabetic group.

Getting the message across is a self imposed mission he embarked on many years ago when he was diagnosed, and still carries the torch. This production goes a long way to achieving it looking at the sorrowful faces emerging from the auditorium.

For more details:


Telephone/Fax: 01708 331746


Like the play, it is an eye opening experience to be made aware of this lurking killer that can strike anywhere and anytime.


The newly cleaned Haysoms Close, Romford, now a meeting place for the environmentally challenged and resting place for others.

The newly cleaned Haysoms Close, Romford, now a meeting place for the environmentally challenged and resting place for others.

The suits in Havering Town Hall will blink at this, but I must congratulate them on the street cleaning in my little enclave off North Street, Romford.

Not only are the four streets regularly cleaned but they have taken notice of residents concerns about the wilderness of Haysoms Close that was fast becoming a rubbish dump.

The road not being overlooked, attracts the environmentally challenged individuals who throw empty beer cans, cigarette packets and general rubbish on the road or in bushes lining the cul-de-sac. I will not go into the smell of an open toilet, but this week I almost tripped over a sleeping body on a concrete garage run up, with assorted beer cans.

Concerned, I made sure he was breathing, but this was not an isolated occurrence.

Down and out is just that for some people and commands some sympathy and the temptation to say not in my backyard is strong, but should not be the case in a civilised society. However, this was not my back yard and that section of road is often a meeting place with a forum held sitting on the kerbside.

The problems of this poor soul were not known other than he was alive and seemed to be on a different planet.

It came as a shock when I first noticed it a few years ago; a symptom of this age and found not where you would expect it.

I am not suggesting for one minute that the extremely pleasant Council cleaning operative who wields his broom with great aplomb in Haysoms Close, should include human beings along with cans, candle stubs and ciggy packets, he would fill his barrow up in no time. No, I mention it for two reasons.

The dramatic effect on this once sad area turned over with a little TLC should not go unmentioned and acknowledged with appreciation deserving the plaudits of residents.

As for the other, It would be nice to think that perhaps a tad more extra help to those in need is possible.



Queen's CoffeeThe kettle is going on in Hornchurch for High Tea with a difference Friday week.

Catering maestro, Karl Dyer at the Queen’s Theatre, has apparently been baking through the nights for a cupcake feast on Friday 25 September from 10am to 1pm, in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.

Karl is also doing the washing up!

Queen's Theatre takes part in biggest fundraising event in the World

Queen’s Theatre takes part in biggest fundraising event in the World

The event, which organisers hope will end in a pile of crumbs and money, is part of the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning for the Charity.

Last year’s event, which the theatre took part in, raised a magnificent £25 million towards helping those suffering from this dreadful illness.

A spokesman for the charity said: ‘The event started in 1990, when a local fundraising committee decided to hold a coffee morning where people came along to meet and donate the cost of their coffee to Macmillan.

The idea seemed such a simple, yet effective one that they suggested the model be taken up nationally. The first National World’s Biggest Coffee Morning was in 1991, when 2,600 people registered to hold coffee mornings across the country. Since then it has raised over £113 million in total for Macmillan Cancer Support.

There are currently 2 million people living with cancer in the UK. By 2030 there will be 4 million. We want to make sure we’re there for all of them.’
The benefits of the charity’s work are enormous as supported by case studies.

Kate from Warwickshire ‘When Kate was diagnosed with cervical cancer, she had a million and one questions. Thankfully her Macmillan nurse Vikki was there to answer them.

‘Vikki stopped me from spiralling into despair. She caught me before I got there.’ And Vikki was still there for Kate throughout her treatment, every step of the way.

‘I felt like she was always on my side, fighting her best – even when I was told the cancer was incurable. She’s a little angel really.’

Now Kate’s trying to stay positive and enjoy the time left with her family. In fact, she says she’s happier than ever. And that’s got a lot to do with Vikki. ‘I felt like Vikki was a friend rather than a nurse. I couldn’t have got through it without her.’

Claire from West Lothian ‘Macmillan has done a lot for my family. A Macmillan nurse was there for my mum when she was ill.’ ‘I know my mum could always talk to her even when she felt she couldn’t speak to the family about how she was feeling.’ ‘Since being diagnosed I’ve had my own Macmillan nurse who has been great. She is extremely knowledgeable and is always there to answer my questions. I want to raise money so Macmillan can help other people like it helped us.’

Tom from Kent ‘I was just 22 when I was told I had cancer. The world stopped when they broke the news.’  ‘My mum and I were in shock and we both wept together but the Macmillan nurse| gave us comfort, she explained that it was treatable and calmed our fears.

‘She was there for me all through the treatment, answered all my questions, and even helped me get a disabled parking badge.’

According to the charity one in three of us will get cancer and for most it will be the toughest thing we ever face. You need a team of inspiring people in your corner with you, something from personal experience I know is so true.

I just missed Macmillan, going down with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia twenty plus years ago. Thanks to the expertise of Prof Lister and his team at Barts, I pulled through, so spare a thought for those in a similar situation and raise a brew of steaming coffee and give more than crumbs to this essential charity.

Macmillan say: ‘That’s who we are. We provide medical, emotional, practical and financial support and we push for a better cancer care system. We’re the team that gives you the strength and energy to face the fight and get through it.