Meet the cast of Deathtrap

Ira Levin’s classic comedy-thriller Deathtrap comes to the Millgate stage from 28 March to 4 April.

The action takes place in a writer’s study, which is a classy stable conversion, attached to an old Colonial house in The East Hamptons, USA, belonging to Sidney and Myra Bruhl.

The Cast . . .

David Noble – Sidney Bruhl

He is a sophisticated, articulate, clever man who was previously a highly successful playwright but is currently a failing one, desperately trying to get back into the theatrical limelight which he craves.

Chris Richardson – Clifford Anderson

This visitor is the self effacing, polite, eager ex-student of Bruhl’s who has written a play and seeks the critique and hopefully approval  of the playwright.

Sarah Carroll – Myra Bruhl

She is Sidney’s beautiful, sophisticated and supportive wife, who suffers from anxiety and has a debilitating health condition.

Helga ten Dorp – Siobhan Ebden

This spiritual, eccentric psychic is a neighbour, who calls round and, very disconcertingly, picks up on past occurrences and things yet to come.

Andrew Wilson – Porter Milgrim

He is a smart, observant, upper crust barrister, who has known Sidney for years and manages the family affairs.

As the characters mingle, it becomes apparent that everything is not what it seems! Or is it?

Saddleworth Players will perform Deathtrap at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 March to 4 April. Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.

Be thrilled, amused and entertained: Deathtrap – Director’s Preview

Deathtrap by Ira Levin. Performed at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 March to 4 April

April 2020 is thriller time and I am happy to be directing Ira Levin’s classic: Deathtrap. 

Written in 1975, it still holds the record for the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway, was made into a film starring Michael Caine in 1982, was revived in the West End in 2010 and thoroughly deserved its ongoing popularity.

It is set in America, in The Hamptons and is a masterclass in thriller writing, ingeniously constructed, with a skilful blend of thrills, shocks and laugh out loud moments.

The premise is: How far will someone go to have a hit play? It seems that all 5 characters have evil intent: Sidney Bruhl, a famous but failing writer; Myra, his wife; aspiring writer, Clifford Anderson; nosey neighbour, psychic Helga and even Bruhl’s attorney, Porter Milgrim.

All the basics of a thriller are there but just when you think you have things sussed, Levin pulls the rug from under your feet. He offers clues which are almost gift wrapped but … which are the real ones and which are red herrings?

Add to this a huge dollop of laughter and a thoroughly enjoyable evening is on the cards, so please come along. Be thrilled, amused and entertained.

Pauline Walsh, Director

Saddleworth Players will perform Deathtrap at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 March to 4 April. Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.

Le Grand Return – opening night review by John Rigby

Saddleworth Players’ latest production, at the Millgate Arts Centre, Alan Stockdill’s Le Grand Return, opened last night to a packed and appreciative audience. This play, based on reality, tells the story of an elderly ex-soldier who despite his poor health is determined to return to Normandy to attend the fiftieth anniversary of the D-day landings, and specifically to revisit the French house where his best friend was killed.

The play begins with broad but painful comedy. Tommy Hardaker and his two oppos are bickering away their old age in the day room of the Coldrick Nursing Home, keeping boredom and pointlessness at bay with dominoes, heartless jokes about each other’s infirmities and a last-ditch campaign to thwart their common enemy, Matron. However the script penetrates beneath the Last of the Summer Wine caricature of the three cantankerous old chaps playing daft japes. As the scene unfolds it creates a back story for each man, revealing unexpected elements of wistfulness and regret.

Verity Mann’s production is strong on visual humour, particularly in the dead-of-night scene where the three heroes appear kitted out in wonderfully unconvincing outfits intended to spirit them through customs in the guise of devil-may care golfers. As Matron coldly points out, they would be picked up by social workers before they got to the end of the lane. Yet there is also a constant shift of moods, from farce to pathos, matched by the audience’s response which often moved from non-stop laughter to thoughtful and attentive silence.


The Millgate’s veteran actors carried off their parts with confidence, energy and faultless comic timing. Their different approaches to their roles gave the performance an impressive variety. Ian Perks was outstanding as Tommy Hardaker, moving from the initial impression of the irritable Gimmer with the Zimmer to reveal fresh levels of sensitivity, recalling the terror and exhilaration of the landings: “I was surrounded by death, but I’ve never felt more alive.” He had excellent support from Ian Crickett as Alf the ex-Bevin Boy, who is treated by his pals as the simpleton and weak link in the chain, but is not as daft as he looks, and from John Tanner, the officer-class toff (but only from the Pay Corps) who is the Captain Mainwaring of the trio. Completing the cast was Alayne Whitworth, who did well in the difficult task of sustaining three different parts, metamorphosing from Matron, the dragon with the heart of gold, to the apparatchik in the Belgian customs office, and then, against type, as the French landlady with her own painful memories of the Liberation.

I had wondered how the production would handle the demands of the very different settings of the story. This problem was solved with ingenious simplicity. On stage, there were minimal settings with just a table and a few chairs, while the wartime background was supplied by and ever-changing variety of black-and-white projections on the screen behind, and by atmospheric music of the time.

Overall an intelligent, sensitive and enterprising production which reflects credit on all concerned, and a poignantly appropriate choice for the day after Brexit.

John Rigby

Saddleworth Players will perform La Grand Return at the Millgate Arts Centre from 1 – 8 February. Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.

Le Grand Return – Director’s Notes

The cast of Le Grand Return

It’s 1994 and the 50th Anniversary of the D-Day landings looms.  Tommy, Alf and Edwin are incarcerated in Coldrick Nursing Home.  In spite of his ever worsening heart condition, D-Day veteran, Tommy, is determined to break out and rejoin his old comrades on the Normandy Beaches and salute the fallen. The friends conspire to escape and, in action that takes them from dining room to Belgian port, to French village and cemetery, they chat, they reminisce, they tease and support each other in this heart-warming tale.

I first came across this play when it was performed by a stellar cast at the Top Room of the Swan in Dobcross.  Alan Stockdill, the playwright, has a genius for warmhearted, humorous characters, pared down settings and stories that will both entertain you and leave you with a lump in your throat. 

Verity Mann, Director

Saddleworth Players will perform La Grand Return at the Millgate Arts Centre from 1 – 8 February. Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.

Tommy, Alf and Edwin concoct a ‘great escape’

Alayne Whitworth plays the part of Yvette

This is my third play since joining the Saddleworth Players back in December 2017 and is certainly the most moving and heart-warming so far.

Tommy, Alf and Edwin concoct a ‘great escape’ from their Nursing Home in the hope of travelling to Normandy to attend the 50th Anniversary   D-Day Commemorations and of finding George Penney’s grave. I don’t want to give too much away about the characters I play, other than to say, there are 3 of them and they’re all very different, although Alf does see some similarities! 

The premise of Le Grand Return, a mix of laughter, tears and tales of bravery, has evoked in me, thoughts of a time in our history that was so  terribly shocking, disturbing and utterly heartbreaking for so many people, not only in this country but across the World. It made me think about my dear Grandad who played his part in World War II but, as far as I can remember, never really spoke about it, and my Nanna who lost her beloved twin Brother Andy (W/Sgt Andrew Straiton). I sadly never got to meet him because he died in a Prisoner of War Camp in Italy. He was just 24 years old.              

I hope you all enjoy this wonderful play and I also hope it will re-ignite in you the many reasons why we should NEVER FORGET the sacrifices ordinary men and women made to keep our Country free.

Alayne Whitworth

Saddleworth Players will perform La Grand Return at the Millgate Arts Centre from 1 – 8 February. Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.

This play will make you laugh and will make you cry

John Tanner plays the Edwin Cooper in Le Grand Return

My name is John Tanner and I am playing the part of Edwin Cooper in the forthcoming Saddleworth Players’ production of ‘Le Grand Return’ at the Millgate Arts Centre. 

During the 2nd World War Edwin was Captain of the Pays Corps, a vital role (paying out wages) but frustrated not to have been a ‘Fighting’ Soldier particularly as he shows a real flare for foreign languages as you will witness during the play!!

This play will make you laugh and will make you cry but it is a poignant reminder of the struggles, hardships and loss of comrades and loved ones to all those who have experienced wartime.

In the play there is a reference to Edwin’s Father being gassed at Ypres during the 1st World War which connects to my own Grandfather, Gilbert Tanner who was at that time a Major in the 7th battalion (West Riding Division of the Duke of Wellingtons). He fought at the battle of Poelcapelle, the 3rdbattle of Ypres in 1917 and was awarded the DSO for his actions in the Battle of Valenciennes fighting alongside Canadian forces at the beginning of November 1918, finally rising to the rank of Colonel.

My Father fought in the 2nd World War and was in both the North African and Italian campaigns serving as Captain in the Territorials.

As I was too young to have been called up for National Service (and obviously too young to be cast in this play !!!!) my only experience of Military Life was in the School CCF – and to escape boring drill I joined the School Military Band which sported a much more colourful uniform – However I couldn’t play an instrument so I was given the task of playing the tenor drum. I never did quite master hitting the drum and marching in time together with disastrous results during a rendition of ‘Hello Dolly’ around the athletics track in front of an amused audience and not so amused parents!

John Tanner

Saddleworth Players will perform La Grand Return at the Millgate Arts Centre from 1 – 8 February. Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.

My Father’s Story D-Day story, by Ray Withnall

Joe Withnall

My father, Joe, was 14 years old when the Second World War began. For the first few months nothing seemed to be happening and, along with his friends, he thought it was going to be a great adventure. Then his neighbour returned from Dunkirk, a shadow of the man he was just six months before. Fears were raised that the Germans would invade Britain but the heroes of the Battle of Britain saved the day, but this was quickly followed by the Blitz bombings and he then realised the seriousness of war. My father joined the Home Guard and even though some of the antics were exactly like Dad’s Army, he learnt about discipline, manoeuvres and comradeship.

On his 18th birthday he joined the Tyneside Scottish Black Watch at Perth barracks and began a course of infantry training that was to last eighteen months. He travelled up and the country training for beach landings, the use of a bren gun, driving, survival, combat tactics, physical training and anything and everything else  the army could think of. It was obvious they were training for something specific but it was only in the spring of 1944 when the rumours began to circulate. His battalion arrived in Thetford and by May they were on stand-by.  The D Day Landings started on 6 June and they were moved to Newhaven ready to depart on 12 June as a support unit. The sea was calm as they crossed to Normandy, but Joe’s nerves made his stomach churn. They arrived on Gold beach and were put on ‘stand by’ ready to move at one hour’s notice to wherever they were needed. This was the first time the men were facing the enemy and most of them were just 19 years old.

Joe in uniform

Eventually they moved inland towards Tilly-sur-Seulles and on 1 July engaged in the battle of Rauray. Following the victory the surviving Tyneside Scottish infantry soldiers were transferred to the 51st Highland Division Black Watch. My father was assigned to the 154 Brigade and moved to liberate Le Havre. The Normandy Campaign ended in August 1944 and the men moved to Belgium.  In January 1945 my father’s Brigade were called upon to assist the Americans in the Battle of the Bulge. He spent his 20th birthday in a snowdrift where he suffered frost bite. Following victory over the Germans at La Roche, he moved north to Holland and joined the Canadians close to the river Rhine in the Reichswald forest area. They advanced towards the Rhine forcing the Germans to retreat. Following this success they began to prepare to cross the Rhine for a final advance into Germany.

On the 23 March 1945 at precisely 9pm in the evening, my father and his Brigade were amongst the first men to cross the Rhine. He was lucky survive as his Buffalo Landing Craft almost toppled over into the river where the Germans had undercut the river bank. The operation was a complete success and opened the way to advance into Germany and force Hitler into defeat. My father was in Bremerhaven when the Germans surrendered. Following reparations he returned home and like many of the heroes of his generation quietly went about rebuilding his life. 

After he retired, my father became an enthusiastic member of the British Legion and Stockport Normandy Veterans Association. He returned to Normandy with my mother over 25 times to pay his respects to those who did not return. I had the honour to go with them a few times and became acutely aware of bravery he and all the others gave to his country. He was awarded the French Legion d’Honneur in 2015 but sadly died two years later at the grand age of 92.

Ray Withnall

Saddleworth Players will perform La Grand Return at the Millgate Arts Centre from 1 – 8 February. Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.

Playing Alf, a former Bevin Boy

Ian Crickett plays Alf in Le Grand Return

In 1939, my dad was in the final year of his apprenticeship at Platt Brothers in Oldham, at the time probably the biggest manufacturers of textile machinery in the world. As an engineering fitter, his mechanical skills were transferable to the production of aircraft parts which was seen as a vital reserved occupation. So up to June or July 1944 he worked long hours at his trade in what was obviously regarded as a valuable part of the war effort.

In the meantime he’d married my mum in 1942 and I’d come on the scene in May 1944. Then for some unfathomable reason, a month or two later his number came out of Ernie Bevin’s hat, and whatever value had previously been placed on his engineering skills was seemingly cast aside, as he was despatched to Dinnington Colliery near Sheffield to spend his time underground as a Bevin’s Boy for the rest of the war. He hated it. When I was growing up and every house was heated by a coal fire, he always said that everybody should have to go and get their own coal so that they would see what it was like, and should that mythical day ever come it would be the only thing that would ever get him down a mine again.

My character Alf in ‘Le Grand Return’ is another former Bevin’s Boy, and as we are allowed some licence with the script I’ve relocated him to Dinnington, where the only part of my dad’s time there that seemed to provoke anything like a fond memory was of working with the pit ponies. Alf also gives the ponies a mention, so perhaps my contribution to the play can be seen as a tribute to them too.

The play itself concerns itself with just three representatives of a generation who have now largely gone and who served this country well in different ways during a difficult time of conflict. It is funny and poignant in the extreme, and I feel honoured to have a part in it. Do come and share it with us. I can promise you that you won’t be sent down the mine. 

Ian Crickett

Saddleworth Players will perform La Grand Return at the Millgate Arts Centre from 1 – 8 February. Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.

Playwright Alan Stockdill on Le Grand Return

Alan Stockdill, playwright

I know the exact moment I started to write ‘Le Grand Return’.  Twenty seven minutes past five on the afternoon of June 6th 2014, the 70th anniversary of D Day. That was the moment when a friend sent me an email titled ‘A possible play for you here ……’. It was a link to a story in that day’s Telegraph about Bernard Jordan, a D Day veteran who had absconded from his care home and had been found in Normandy at the anniversary commemorations. 


I was inspired and got to work straight away. Stephen King, in his book ‘On Writing’ likens stories to fossils, they are already there, it’s the job of the writer to find them and gently bring them into the light. That’s what it felt like writing ‘Le Grand Return’. The whole thing was written in three weeks. It’s a first draft, the words, the characters, the story just came to me, I felt as if I was only using the gentlest of tugs to get it out. Half way through I got a cast together and we read the the first act. Apart from a few tweaks in rehearsals, the play you will see is the story-fossil I dug out in its original, purest form. 


I decided from the outset that I needed to move the story back 20 years, I knew that it would be difficult to find actors in their 90s! Setting it in 1994, on the 50th anniversary meant that I could use actors capable of appearing to be in their late 60s/early 70s. My first cast actually comprised one actor in his 50s, another in his 60s, only Tommy was actually the right age. I think audiences can suspend belief if the actors and the direction are of a high standard. 


We toured it in the following year. Audiences everywhere seemed to engage and enjoy it, even southern ones (the play is distinctly northern and there are a couple of light hearted barbs at southerners). We won the inaugural Woodbridge Drama Festival in Sussex and through that went on to the National Final in Woking. But our best response, and I’m not just saying this, was in Saddleworth. We initially took it to The Swan in Dobcross for two sold out nights but such was the response that Michael and Tim kindly asked us back for another three more sold out performances later in the year. As a result the play was entered into the Greater Manchester Fringe and to my amazement won Best New Writing. I say to my amazement because I never imagined a tale of three old chaps escaping to Normandy would resonate with a Fringe audience more used to edgy avant garde productions. 


I am very pleased that Le Grand Return is making its own grand return to Saddleworth. Live drama is the most collaborative of the arts – writer, director, actors and audience create the performance, the moment together. Without the audience it’s just a rehearsal. And it’s the most ephemeral art form – every production, every performance is unique, it’s why we love theatre. I can’t wait to re-visit the beautiful theatre at Millgate Arts Centre to see Verity Mann’s new interpretation of my play.I look forward to being in a Saddleworth audience once again to see this brand new production of Le Grand Return. 


Alan Stockdill

Saddleworth Players will perform La Grand Return at the Millgate Arts Centre from 1 – 8 February. Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.

‘A heroic generation’ by Ian Perks

The character I play (Tommy Hardaker) is an old soldier desperate to return to Normandy for the 50th Anniversary of D-Day.  My connections to the military are, at best, tenuous.  My Grandfather was unfit for military service in World War 1 because he had been in a sanatorium suffering from T.B. and had a weak chest.  My father volunteered in 1939 but was rejected because of poor eyesight (he fell over the furniture in the assessment room).  The army did not want a soldier who was unable to distinguish friend from for or indeed locate the end of a rifle.  He did join the Home Guard but his anecdotes of that period tended to the comic rather than the heroic.  I did have an uncle who did National Service in Palestine in 1948 but his Sergeant Major told him that he would never be a soldier as long as he had a fully functioning digestive system (expressed rather more colourfully).  So NO family history then.

When I started work all my colleagues were ex-servicemen. Indeed, two had been on the beach on D-day, and I never lost my respect for the dogged courage of ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances; definitely some connection with Tommy there.  I hope we manage to convey some of the qualities of that heroic generation in our production in February.

Ian Perks

P.S. I was in the Boys’ Brigade so I did learn how to march!

Saddleworth Players will perform La Grand Return at the Millgate Arts Centre from 1 – 8 February. Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.