Adorable Dora – Rosemary Ashe’s tribute to Dora Bryan

Image above: Dora Bryan

“I’ve called it Adorable Dora because nobody had a bad word to say about her” says Rosemary Ashe. The one woman show in tribute to Dora Bryan is Rosemary’s lockdown project.

“I was having a clear out and came across one of her cassettes and thought what a wonderful subject she would make”.

Rosemary, who started her own career as an opera singer and then went into musicals, has created a one woman show before, about Ethel Merman. When it came to Dora Bryan she found that she knew lots of people who had either known her or worked with her and that she had sung many of the songs in musical revues that Dora had been the first to perform.

She is performing the show at Jermyn St Theatre on Sunday 27 June, (sold out), but her performance on Wednesday 23 June in St Michael & All Angels Church will be the global premiere. Her two performances at Jermyn St Theatre will also be livestreamed and tickets for that are available to buy on their website.

“I am embodying her, not impersonating her” she tells me, focusing on the musicals but also telling her story and playing her as if she were my age now (68). Although she is not trying to mimic her subject, her take on Dora’s instantly recognisable voice is uncanny.

Image above: Rosemary Ashe

It must have been exceedingly hard to decide what to leave out, as Dora Bryan’s career spanned 70 years. Her first role on stage was in pantomime when she was only 12 and her last was in a short film Gone to the Dogs with Anthony Booth in 2006.

She trained initially as a dancer and took great pride in still being able to do the splits when she was 70. Will Rosemary be going there, I wondered? “You’ll have to wait and see” she says.

Dora got her grounding in theatre in Oldham Repertory, which she joined at the age of 16. She seemed to move effortlessly to the West End after learning her craft there for six years, performing in many West End shows, including Noel Coward’s Private Lives. She was friends with Noel Coward and Laurence Olivier.

You may remember her from her many films and TV roles, which included Carry on Sergeant (1958) and The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966), Last of the Summer Wine, Absolutely Fabulous and Dinner Ladies.

She was a brilliant comic actress but also has a tremendous list of serious acting credits to her name, including a West End production of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party towards the end of her career. She won a Bafta for her role in the ground-breaking film A Taste of Honey in 1961 but was also known as a singer, performing in many musicals and revues.

Among the songs in Adorable Dora, Rosemary will give the audience the song which made Dora Bryan famous: Why Did You Call Me Lily? as well as Bill, Life Upon The Wicked Stage and Before The Parade Passes By from Hello Dolly. She will also read some of the best known passages from her most famous roles, including Helen, the mother with the drinking problem and the acid tongue in A Taste of Honey.

She will be accompanied by her musical director Paul Knight.

Rosie has played and created many roles in some of the most popular musicals of the past 40 years, including The Boyfriend, The Phantom of the Opera, Forbidden Broadway, Oliver!, The Witches of Eastwick, Mary Poppins and Adrian Mole. She has also enjoyed playing a wide variety of roles on the stage in opera and plays as well as on television, in cabaret and concert.

You can book tickets for Rosemary Ashe’s Adorable Dora, on Wednesday 23 June here:

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See also: Bedford Park Festival Summer Exhibition 2021

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