Casting is announced for a new production of Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit thriller Towards Zero, to be directed by Brian Blessed at The Mill at Sonning.
Five puzzled faces turned to him. There had been a murder - a brutal murder - of an invalid matriarch as she lay in bed. There had apparently been no premeditation on the part of her family and friends who had gathered at her home for their regular yearly visit. No one seemed to have had any reason for killing her, nor did anyone gain by her death. Inspector Battle paused. “It’s Zero Hour now,” he snapped.
Packed with suspense, brooding atmosphere and outrageous twists and turns, Towards Zero will run for 8 weeks from Thursday 8 August - Saturday 28 September.
Towards Zero is a family affair, the latest in a line of Christie thrillers directed each summer by Brian Blessed at The Mill, with his wife, Hildegard Neil and daughter, Rosalind Blessed, in the company.
The combination of Christie and Blessed has proved a winning formula for The Mill, helped by the special relationship that Brian had with the Queen of Crime. He met and worked with her when he was a young actor at Nottingham Repertory Theatre. Their friendly conversations informed Brian about how she would have liked to see her plays directed. She told Brian that Towards Zero was acclaimed by the novelist Rupert Graves as by far her best and most dramatic novel, and in 1956, Gerald Verner adapted it into a play.
Christie explains in her own words the meaning of the intriguing title: “When you read the account of a murder, real or imagined, you usually begin with the murder itself,” said the big Inspector Battle. “That’s all wrong. The murder belongs a long time beforehand. A murder is the culmination of a lot of different circumstances all converging at a given time at a given point. It’s Zero Hour.”
Set majestically on the banks of the River Thames, the Mill at Sonning Theatre is celebrating more than 30 years of entertainment. Uniquely, as the only dinner theatre in the United Kingdom, it has gained unrivalled praise both nationally and internationally. All tickets include a delicious two-course meal in the restaurant before the show.
Rosalind Blessed wrote, produced and performed in her own play The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People at The Courtyard Theatre. She played Rosie Bailey in The Ballard of Robin Hood (Southwark Playhouse), Goneril in King Lear and Emilia in Othello both for the Guildford Shakespeare Company. Prior to that she played Tamora in Titus Andronicus (Arcola Theatre).
Rob Heanley was Giles Ralston, in The Mousetrap (West End) and Captain Lesgate, Dial M for Murder (New Vic Theatre), Frank Myers, Strangers on a Train (English Theatre, Frankfurt), The Black Diamond (Punch Drunk), The Night Chauffer (Punch Drunk).
Patrick Myles was in Tales of the Unexpected, also directed by Brian Blessed, at The Mill at Sonning. Theatre work includes Infinitum (Les Enfants Terribles), Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare in the Squares), Henry VI Parts One, Two and Three (Shakespeare’s Globe), Bush Bazaar (Bush Theatre), The Hairy Ape (Southwark Playhouse), The Black Diamond (Punchdrunk).
Bethan Nash returns to The Mill at Sonning where she was Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady and Tracy Lord in High Society. Graduating from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Bethan received The Peter O’Toole Prize and was the recipient of the Julian Slade Music Award.
Hildegard Neil also appeared in The Holly and The Ivy, Enchanted April and The Hollow at The Mill at Sonning. In a long and successful career, highlights include two and a half years at the Liverpool Everyman, where she played, among many, the title role of Hedda Gabler, Lady Macbeth (Greenwich Theatre), Gertrude in Hamlet, Elanor of Acquitaine with Brian Blessed in The Lion in Winter.
Chris Pybus Stage credits include: A La Carte (Old Red Lion Theatre), A Taste of Honey (Epstein Theatre), Finishing Touches (Tour), Tales from Behind the Twitching Curtain (Soho Theatre), Nebraska (Southwark Playhouse), Orphans (Southwark Playhouse).
George Telfer returns to Sonning after last summer’s production of The Unexpected Guest and Spider’s Web and The Hollow the two summers before.George has done a number of one man shows, two of which he wrote himself (about John Gielgud and Richard Burton) and two which were written for him (about Graham Chapman and Prince Philip).
Kate Tydman returns to The Mill at Sonning where she last appeared in The Unexpected Guest. She was in The Entertainer (Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company); Murder On The Orient Express (Twentieth Century Fox), Love Me Tender (UK Tour), The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (Rose Theatre, Kingston) and Macbeth (Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, New York).
Noel White made his Mill at Sonning debut in last year’s production of The Hollow. His other theatre roles include Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth and Hamlet (Guilford Shakespeare Company).
Duncan Wilkins trained at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and the Moscow Arts Theatre. Theatre credits include: Romeo & Juliet (MokitaGrit, The Chocolate Factory), Tales From Behind the Twitching Curtain (Arcola Theatre/Soho Theatre), The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People (The Courtyard & Edinburgh Festival), The Return of the Exile (The Yard Theatre; Athinais Theatre, Athens).
Brian Blessed OBE (Director)
Brian Blessed is an actor known for his booming voice and his roles in Z-Cars, I, Claudius, Blackadder, and Flash Gordon. His West End roles included both Old Deuteronomy in the original cast of Cats and he originated the role of Baron Bomburst for the London Palladium stage musical version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He directed Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web and The Hollow at The Mill at Sonning. He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2016 Birthday Honours for services to the arts and charity
Dinah England (Set Designer)
Previous designs for The Mill at Sonning include: Time of My Life, A Night in Provence, The Heiress, Love’s a Luxury, Plaza Suite, The Odd Couple, I Ought to be in Pictures, Guilty Secret, Room Service Included and California Suite.
THE MILL AT SONNING
There has been a mill at Sonning for many centuries. In the Domesday Book of 1086 three mills at ‘Sonninges and Berrochescire’ are mentioned. In the 1600s the rents for the mill went to the Royal Revenue.
During the Civil War when Cromwell had his headquarters in London and King Charles had his in Oxford, the troops met in the middle - Reading. It was Sonning which supplied the flour for the besieged garrison in the town. The site of the earliest Sonning mill could very well have been in a different place. Wooden buildings had a habit of burning down. The current one dates back to the 18th century but the main parts of the present theatre building are from around 1890. It was owned then by the Witherington family who added the top two storeys and the larger waterwheels for more power to drive the machinery. Around 1898 they put in a steam engine to supplement the water power.
The Phillimore family took over the mill in 1913 but they still traded under the name of C.H. Witherington and Sons Ltd. They remodelled the inside of the mill the following year. Up until 1950 the mill had its own fleet of barges which brought wheat from London right up to its door. In 1962, when the business was taken over by Associated British Foods Ltd., they remodelled yet again and introduced electric engines although the main source of power was still produced by the wheels.
When the mill closed in 1969, it was one of the last flour mills on the Thames driven by wheels. The new port mill at Tilbury had opened and Sonning, being much smaller could not compete economically. Also, one of Sonning’s major customers, Huntley and Palmers, stopped making biscuits in Reading.
The mill remained empty until 1977. It was then that Tim and Eileen Richards, who had a great love of theatre, found the derelict building and decided to convert it into The Mill as it is today. Tim invited his brother Frank to join them and the transformation took four years to complete. THE MILL AT SONNING DINNER THEATRE opened on July 22nd 1982.
Sadly Frank Richards died in 1994, Tim Richards in 2002 and Eileen Richards in 2015. Her daughter Sally is now Managing Director of The Mill which continues to go from strength to strength thanks to its ever loyal staff and audience, having produced an abundance of plays and musicals.
In 1984 The Mill at Sonning was given a conservation award by The Times newspaper and The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors for the design, restoration and conversion of the derelict mill into a dinner theatre.
It was named Most Welcoming Theatre by the Theatre Managers Association for the past three years running, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
by Agatha Christie
Directed by Brian Blessed
The Mill at Sonning Theatre
Box Office: 0118 969 8000
8 August - 28 September
Evening shows: Tuesday - Saturday
at 8.15pm (dinner from 6.15pm)
8, 15, 22 August at 2.15pm
(lunch served from 12.15pm)
Saturday matinees every week at 2.15pm
(lunch served from 12.15pm)
from 1 September at 2.15pm
(lunch served from 12.15pm)
All tickets include a 2 course meal with coffee,
programme on your table and the show
Tickets: from £51.00
Getting to The Mill at Sonning
The Mill is a 10 minute taxi ride from Reading,
Twyford, Earley and Wargrave stations
From the M4 Junction 8/9:
Take the A404(M) to the A4, then follow the B478
From the M4 Juction 10:
Take the A329(M) to the A4, then follow the B478
From the A4155: Take the B478
There is ample car parking space available