Sunday, 21 October 2018

Living with actors would drive me mad

PAUL ELLIOTT is one of the West End’s most successful and well-respected producers. He’s worked with Rupert Everett, Sir Ian

Review by Janine Rasiah

PAUL ELLIOTT is one of the West End’s most successful and well-respected producers. He’s worked with Rupert Everett, Sir Ian McKellen, Kim Cattrall and Patrick Stewart, produced 450 pantomimes and picked up handfuls of Olivier awards along the way.

Now he’s set to bring his own play to the Mill at Sonning, There’s No Place Like A Home, based on an idea suggested by entertainer Danny La Rue over lunch one day.

The comedy centres on a group of retired showbiz stars whose care home is in danger of being closed down due to lack of funds. Sound familiar? The premise is very much like the set-up of Quartet, a British film starring Dame Maggie Smith and Billy Connolly that stormed the box office earlier this year.

In fact, Elliott’s play was written long before, and toured nationwide in the autumn seasons of 2006 and 2007. And unlike the film, where a quartet of opera singers plan to revive a Verdi aria to raise funds, this plot has all the elements of traditional British farce — the pensioners plan to kipnap a celebrity and demand a ransom.

Elliott says he was delighted to be asked to revive the production for the 27-date run — and direct it for the first time.

“It was the first play I’d written so I wanted to stand at the side but that was a mistake, I should have done it, because all I did was interfere,” he said.

“I had been dying to have the chance to direct it. It did very, very well, everybody liked it so I’ve jumped at the chance.”

He says he found writing the play easy because it is based on his own experiences and backstage tales amassed during his five-decade career in showbusiness.

“Acting is a little bit sad in some ways because actors always pretend that they are going better than they are,” he said.

“They are very proud people and so they pretend they have money when some of them drink it away. There is a sadness in the play as well as it being a comedy because they have no money, it’s all gone.”

Elliott’s own professional career began in acting, although by his own admission, treading the boards was not his forte.

After eight years working in theatre, he became a regular character in the BBC series Dixon Of Dock Green which was screened on Saturday nights and Elliott would regularly watch his performance and cringe.

“I used to think ‘that is not very good’,” he said. “I was a terrible actor. Some people can do it and some people can’t. I think I got away with it for a time. It’s a hard way to earn a living and even the good actors are out of work some of the time.”

He left the acting world soon after, becoming a stage manager and then a theatre producer, a varied career which he says compares to no other.

“I could have got a proper job but this is better than working,” he said. “There have been so many highlights. I’ve had a few kicks in the teeth where I’ve thought, ‘Where did that go wrong?’ when I’ve chosen the wrong actor or so on, but you never really know in this game as you learn something new every day. There’s not enough money in the world to persuade me back into acting.”

He has just returned from Los Angeles where he staged Backbeat, the story of the birth of The Beatles and his next projects include preparing for a world tour of The Last Confession starring David Suchet, touring Dirty Dancing in Canada and his first ever ice show in collaboration with Dancing On Ice judge Robin Cousins.

For now, though, he’s focused on curtain up at the Mill, a venue he has previously travelled to from his home in West London to watch shows.

“The theatre is an unusual shape which presents its own challenges as you need to make sure the audience can see and hear everything and feel a part of it at all times, which has been another learning curve for me,” he said.

“It’s a lovely place to work as there is a great atmosphere. The actors like it. What more could you want from life?”

And does he see himself ending up in a retirement home like his characters? No chance.

“I want to travel the world again,” he says. “There’s lots of places and lots of things to do and people to see. I want to go to Peru, Chile and Argentina. The thought of being in a home with a load of actors would drive me mad.”

lThere’s No Place Like A Home runs until May 18. Box office 0118 969 8000 or visit the website www.millatsonning.com

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