From next week, Watford's Palace Theatre will close for 14 months to undergo a £7.3 million, Lottery-funded refurbishment. Its 2002 programme will conclude on Saturday 6 July 2002 with a final Gala performance of its current production, Big Night Out (at the little palace theatre), starring Sandi Toksvig, Bonnie Langford and Dillie Keane.

Leaking pipes, empty seats and dusty old boxes of costumes are familiar sights at the Palace Theatre, but for Molly, Grace and Barbara, they're now a way of life. When news arrives that their beautiful theatre is to be sold, the plans and dreams of these three loyal usherettes are dashed. The ensuing events spiral into a roller coaster of surprises, hilarity and an unexpected murder.

Toksvig, who also wrote Big Night Out, is an accomplished comedian, actor and author. Her stage acting credits have included The Pocket Dream, Androcles and the Lion, Much Ado About Nothing and The Comedy of Errors while on television, she's frequently appeared on Call My Bluff and Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Toksvig was also a member of the original Comedy Store Players.

A former child star, Langford is a West End veteran whose credits include Cats, Gypsy, Gone with the Wind, The Pirates of Penzance, Me and My Girl and Sweet Charity. Keane, a founding member of award-winning cabaret act "Fascinating Aida", has also been seen on stage in Dancing at Lughnasa, Juno and the Paycock and Charley's Aunt.

Also in the cast of Big Night Out, which opened on 18 June 2002 (previews from 14 June), are David Ashley, Ken Bradshaw, Russell Churney and Simon Coulthard. He production is directed by Lawrence Till and designed by Richard Foxton, with lighting by John Harris.

Originally opened as a music hall in 1908, the Palace Theatre is a Grade II-listed Edwardian building, which has undergone little renovation since its foundation. The theatre was awarded a £5 million Lottery grant, topped up by its own fundraising efforts, which will be used for the overhaul. Planned improvements include new seating, a new café and bar, a redesigned stage, updated backstage facilities and modern technology installations for office staff.

As one of the few producing theatres in its region, the Palace has achieved a high national profile. It produces nine new shows a year, many of which have gone on to tour or transfer. In recent years, its successes have included David Farr's Elton John's Glasses and Simon Gray's The Late Middle Classes, which won the 1999 Barclays TMA Award for Best New Play.

- by Terri Paddock