Ex-actor Elizabeth, 96, returns to the limelight with help from The Aldbury

20 March 2024

The team at The Aldbury dementia care home enabled a 96-year-old former stage actor and singer to step back into the limelight.

Elizabeth Kay had a career treading the boards after graduating from RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, in 1946.

At the age of 19, one of her first big opportunities was to play the part of Ismene alongside the famous star Lawrence Olivier in a production of Oedipus Rex in London’s West End.

Going on to appear in many other shows, Elizabeth’s favourite music hall routines included songs such as Burlington Bertie from Bow and Nobody Loves a Fairy When She’s 40.

Now living at The Aldbury Dedicated Dementia Care Home in Poole, Elizabeth was reminiscing about her stage career and told staff of her wish to perform once more.

Cara Duroe of the Companionship Team devised a way in which Elizabeth could have her wish come true and link it to the home’s celebration of World Theatre Day.

She spoke with touring theatre company Tickled Pink Productions who agreed to bring their Best of Broadway show to the home.

On the big night, Cara and colleagues transformed The Aldbury’s Strauss Lounge into a glitzy theatre complete with lighting, decorations, programmes and supplies of popcorn and ice creams for the audience.

After lyric sheets were distributed, Elizabeth, fellow residents and family members watched and sang along as Tickled Pink performers Sofia Loreti and Rowan Mackillop reprised hits such as Putting On The Ritz, Singing In The Rain and No Business Like Show Business.

Cara said: “The show has a lovely light-hearted story line about ‘Betty and Judy’ tap-dancing their way to Broadway success. The actors Rowan and Sofia played it perfectly. The songs that animated the residents most, prompting much dancing in their chairs, were Happy Talk and New York, New York.”

As agreed with Cara beforehand, Sofia and Rowan wrote into their script that Elizabeth was auditioning for Broadway and so brought her on to perform Burlington Bertie.

“Elizabeth donned a top hat and held her cane high and very animatedly acted her scene,” said Cara. “We were all very emotional watching and she got rapturous applause. She performed her turn as a true professional on what was a fantastic evening.”

Cara added: “Elizabeth told us that she started performing at three years of age and loved to dance.

“She ran away from home as her parents disapproved, saying it wasn’t a respectable career choice. She met her husband Earl backstage. He was part of a production team.

“She told me, ‘I carried on being an actress while I raised my children. During rehearsals they were told to sit there, be quiet and watch your mother!’.

“Elizabeth’s daughter has told us that her mum has always enjoyed being on the stage, acting and singing and she will never shy away from the opportunity to have an audience and entertain in her unique fashion.

“It really was a pleasure and a privilege to help Elizabeth tap into her memories of a theatrical career from years gone by.

“The Companionship Team dressed as ushers, our uniforms complete with snacks trays filled with New Forest ice-cream tubs, popcorn and chocolates. The trays were designed and created by the residents.”

After her performance, Elizabeth said: “Burlington Bertie is something I learnt when I was very young. My grandfather taught me how to sing it. He said I would never be a ballerina with my two right feet, so I’d better learn how to entertain people instead.

“I had great fun performing again and I did very well. I put the feather on as a moustache to make people laugh. To perform, you have to have confidence. I know that whatever anyone says, I have done it correctly and well. I know there is no-one in this area that can do what I do.”

As well as Elizabeth, the show appealed to several other ex-performers among the audience of residents.

Valerie Short said: “It took me back to my own tap-dancing days, I used to dance all the time.”

Jean Sandoe, another former dancer, said: “It was wonderful. The costumes, the singers, what wonderful voices. I wish I could sing like that.”

Several other of our sister homes are marking this year’s World Theatre Day. At Brook View in West Moors, the residents’ choir Silver Brook will perform songs from the musical Oliver.

Canford Chase in Poole will also host a performance celebrating musical theatre, while a minibus will take residents from Abbey View in Sherborne to see a production of Oklahoma at the Westlands Entertainment Venue in Yeovil.

Kingfishers in New Milton will welcome the Green Room theatre group for a play called Mamma’s Here featuring the chance to sing along to hits from Abba.

Launched in 1962 by the International Theatre Institute, World Theatre Day is celebrated every 27th of March by actors and theatre professionals across the world.

It is designed to highlight the value and importance of theatre as an art form. The Institute is the world’s largest organisation for the performing arts, with more than 90 centres worldwide.