The Mill Dinner Theatre at Sonning
By water it's on the weir Island, below Sonning Bridge. By land it's south of the B478 in the centre of Sonning Bridge
Micro Hydro Scheme
Sonning Dinner Theatre installed the first micro-hydro scheme on the Thames in 2005.
The 18.5kW turbine generates enough electricity to power the theatre's numerous powerful lights, restaurant, offices and backstage areas.
[See Sonning Lock for another hydro scheme.]
Set majestically on the banks of the River Thames, the Mill at Sonning Theatre now celebrates 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.
Directors, designers, actors, musicians, of the highest quality help maintain its exceptional reputation. Many new plays premiere here from established to young up-and-coming writers. All productions are created on the premises. Nothing is ‘brought in’. Rehearsal rooms buzz with activity. Sets are built in our workshop.Costumes designed and made in our wardrobe.
In our kitchens, fresh food is prepared daily. And we proudly say “with not a microwave in sight”.
The intimate theatre seats 215 in the semi-round allowing the audience to feel involved in the performance. The elegant restaurant, separate from the theatre but within the premises, with views over the sparkling Thames has the friendliest young staff of waiters and waitresses. A spinning waterwheel features in the cosy bar.
The Mill is completely self-sufficient. No sponsors, no grants – not a penny of tax-payers' money supports us. We live on your patronage at our box office.
The atmosphere is welcoming. The setting is beautiful. The standards are high.
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. This one dates back to the eighteenth 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 and Tim Richards died in 2002. Eileen Richards and her children are now the owners 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, and recently was nominated Most Welcoming Theatre by the Theatre Managers Association. In 2012 the Mill was approved to open its doors as a wedding venue.