YORK company Pick Me Up Theatre are to present Privates On Parade – every pun intended – at the John Cooper Studio Theatre @41Monkgate, York, from March 8 to 16.

This award-winning “play with songs”, based on the real-life experiences of writer Peter Nichols, centres on the outrageous antics of a song-and-dance unit staging concert parties for British troops in Singapore after the Second World War.

It was here that Nichols shared the concert-party limelight in his National Service days with Carry On star Kenneth Williams and comedian and Edinburgh pantomime legend Stanley Baxter.

Nichols’ farce follows the journey of naive Private Steve Flowers after he is posted to the SADUSEA entertainment unit in South East Asia. There he meets fabulously flamboyant Captain Terri Dennis, who brings a whole new meaning to army camp with his cross-dressing song-and-dance routines.

Privates On Parade was premiered in 1977 by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and later starred York Theatre Royal pantomime dame Berwick Kaler as Captain Terri Dennis at the Grand Opera House, York, in 1996.

“It’s an hilarious and sometimes poignant show full of period pastiche songs by Denis King,” says director Robert Readman. “Think Carmen Miranda and Noel Coward meets Flanagan and Allen and Marlene Dietrich!”

York Press:

"Having an absolute ball":  The Privates On Parade cast members are all smiles as rehearsals progress

Readman has assembled a cast led by Rory Mulvihill as the outrageous Captain Dennis and James Potter as Private Flowers. “We’re having an absolute ball rehearsing this show,” he says. “The cast are throwing themselves into the fun as the double entendres fly, but, like any good piece, Privates On Parades works on many levels and young Steve Flowers will learn it takes more than just a uniform to become a man.”

Mulvihill latterly has played Sergeant Wilson in Pick Me Up’s 50th anniversary production of Dad’s Army, Old Deuteronomy in Cats and Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady.

He and Potter will be joined by Rachel Dennison as Sylvia Morgan; Adam Sowter, Lance Corporal Charles Bishop; Paul Joe Osborne, Sergeant Major Reg Drummond; Pick Me Up debutant Andrew Isherwood, Corporal Len Bonny; Iain Harvey, Leading Aircraftman Eric Young-Love; Andrew Roberts, Flight Sergeant Kevin Cartwright and Andrew Caley, Major Giles Flack.

Peter Nichols said of his own experiences in his 2012 book At Your Service – The Birth Of Privates On Parade: “It was in Singapore in 1947 that my real education began. For the first time I read Lawrence, Forster, Virginia Woolf, Melville, Graham Greene and Bernard Shaw’s political works, becoming a lifelong Leftie. When Stanley Baxter explained Existentialism in our billet block, we nodded intelligently. When Kenneth Williams spoke Parlyaree, we were in advance of the rest of the nation who wouldn’t hear of it till Beyond Our Ken.”

Nichols and co toured the island, mainland Malaya and Hong Kong in search of an audience. “Other troupes did Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and Burma (Myanmar) but the latter was in anti-British turmoil and it was feared our show may have been the last straw,” he wrote. “We were never in real danger, despite the quality of the show. Reluctant conscripts watched it in a mood somewhere between resentment and astonishment. They had no idea they were getting a free glimpse of seeing two future stars.”

“Back in real life in the 1950s, Kenneth took me to see our leading (civilian) drag artiste in a show called Boys Will Be Girls, aptly showing at the Queen’s, Poplar. ‘Five pounds,’ promised the posters, ‘if you can spot a girl in this show.’ There wasn’t one in ours either, though there is in Privates On Parade.”

Step forward Rachel Dennison as Sylvia Morgan. Tickets for a show with “choice language and a smattering of flesh” are on sale at pickmeuptheatre.com.