Tag Archives: Malvern Theatre

Jewel in the Crown

MAURICE’S JUBILEE

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Monday 11th March, 2013

 

There is a trend in recent cinema of making films for the older market.  Think of Song For Marion and that one about the hotel in India.  And Quartet, that’s another one.  In a way, this new play follows that trend in that the main characters are well over the hill, with the concerns and extensive back stories of those who have been kicking around the planet for several decades.  I’d argue the play is more than an attempt to attract a particular demographic and has universal appeal.

Earnest and professionally cheerful nurse Katy moves into the bungalow of elderly couple Maurice and Helena to provide palliative care.  He has terminal cancer and his wife has a severe case of denial.  As Katy settles in, she learns (and we learn) about Maurice’s past.  Formerly a jeweller, he had the privilege of guarding the crown jewels the night before the coronation.  This duty afforded him a few hours in the company of the young queen, an encounter he has never forgotten.  In fact he has been banging on about it, to his wife’s dismay, for sixty years.

Time is running out for Maurice.  He strives to stay alive for his 90th birthday – on that day he is expecting a very special visitor, based on a pact made on that night before the coronation.  No one believes him, but cheery Katy decides to indulge the old man.  She and Helena cook up a ruse: Katy will dress up as the Queen and fulfil Her Majesty’s obligations on her behalf.

Nichola McAuliffe’s play is a diamond.  The script is warm and touching but never mawkish or sentimental and, above all, it is very funny.  Maurice (Julian Glover) is fond of the corny and/or salacious joke.  His sense of humour and his faith that the Queen will come to tea keep him going. Helena (Sheila Reid) is exasperated but eventually comes to face the truth.

Julian Glover is marvellous as the ailing Maurice.  The first act closes with a lengthy monologue from him as he tells Nurse Katy about that fateful night in the Tower of London.  He holds her and us spellbound.  In the second act, he stumbles around, bent over his walking frame, trailing an intravenous drip.  There is something extra poignant about seeing such a giant brought low by infirmity. The play is not without its hard-hitting moments. Beneath the veil of humour, there is fear and anguish.

The playwright herself plays Katy as a fussy but sympathetic spinster.  She also gets the chance to impersonate the Queen in a wonderful scene, the jewel in this play’s crown, that shows how versatile an actor she is and proves that Helen Mirren hasn’t cornered that particular market.

Sweet and funny, beautifully written and constructed, Maurice’s Jubilee shows us the effects of old age and terminal illness on love and life.  It also gives us a view of our monarch in a positive and amusing light, with some belly-laughs along the way, although it is for Nichola McAuliffe that I came away feeling a reinforced respect.

maurice's jubilee

 

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All Shook Up

EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Wednesday 5th October, 2011

 

With a running time not far off of three hours, a play about climate change seems a daunting prospect, and while I spent the duration of this piece with my bum increasingly numb, in every other respect, the time flew by.

 

Mike Bartlett’s new piece gives us human drama on an epic scale, focussing on three sisters and zapping back and forth in time across the generations and so the play has more to tell us than just “The end is nigh” – although there is plenty of doom-mongering and scary stuff to go around.  What propels the action and keeps it engaging are the relationships of these three women, with each other and with others.

 

Former Torchwood boss, Tracy-Ann Oberman is a Lib-Dem secretary for the environment, serving in a coalition government (this play is bang up-to-date!) driven in her work to curb airline expansion while her marriage to grey man, Colin, enters its own ice age.  She is a woman with a cause, adept at deflecting the machinations of less scrupulous men and yet not without vulnerability.  It is a splendid performance.

 

Also outstanding is Lucy Phelps as rebel-without-a-mother, Jasmine, the youngest sister, more than able to hold her own against Paul Shelley as the overbearing, morally bankrupt scientist, the father who abandoned her when she was still in eco-friendly nappies.

 

Only in the second act does the play begin to wobble a bit.  We are in the year 2525 (a date picked just so we can hear the song) or are we?  Are we in a sterile version of the afterlife?  Are we in the final dream of dying middle sister, Freya?  An animation (which, incidentally, reminded me of the stories of Frith in the film version of Watership Down) tells us that one girl, Solomon, will lead the world through the oncoming global crisis and we will forever live in harmony and at peace with the planet.  If this kind of floppy mysticism is humanity’s only saviour, I am glad I won’t be around to endure it.

Otherwise, this is a thoroughly engaging piece, both emotionally and intellectually.  Good use is made of a revolving stage and rotating set walls to keep the action flowing and the characters on the move.  Music adds energy – the cast lip-synch and do choreography along with Coldplay’s Vida La Viva, for example, and it reminded me of the groundbreaking work of dear old Dennis Potter.

 

The topical references give immediacy to the piece and also a fast-expiring sell-by date, but this is in support of the message.  Time is limited and running out.  It may already be too late.

 

A draining (not just the blood from my buttocks) and rewarding watch, Earthquakes In London is an important new work that entertains and touches while keeping to the acceptable side of propaganda.

 


Aga Saga

BASKET CASE

Malvern Theatres, Wednesday 28th September, 2011

 

There are some plays that make you look at life in a new way.  There are plays that move you, surprise you, shock you, amuse you, disgust you, challenge you, puzzle you and thrill you.

 

And there are some plays that put you off going to the theatre.

 

This is a new play by Nick Fisher – his first opus for the stage.  And it shows.  I remember his TV series Manchild as being rather enjoyable but here something has gone very wrong. Scenes are constructed like sketches, with punch lines and blackouts.  When characters leave the stage, there is no sense of their lives continuing until they return.  They merely come back to resume the discussion they were having before they left the stage.

 

Guy (Smarm King Nigel Havers) is summoned by his ex-wife back to the family home because loyal doggy Toby is dying in a basket on the kitchen floor.  The vet (Graham Seed) has advised the mutt be put to sleep by lethal injection, but Miranda (strident voice, bakes muffins in Capri pants and heels) thinks it only fitting that the “shit” she married (her words) gets to say a final goodbye to his loyal friend.   Enter Guy and the rants begin.  He does ten minutes on his aversion to Miranda’s new Aga.  He puts her new French lover’s espadrilles on a baking tray and slams them in one of the Aga’s four ovens.  He tries to ingratiate himself back into her affections with further tirades and some bouts of posh swearing.   He is not a likeable character.  His expressions range from the sardonic and the smarmy to a sort of clenched agitation where he punctuates his invective with jerks of his head as though deflecting invisible footballs into the back of the net.

 

Mind you, none of the four characters have much to recommend them.  Miranda is cold, dropping references to popular character into her monologues rather than reveal any roundedness to her character.  The vet is so bloody nice and decent you want him to fall on his own lethal syringe.  Guy’s lower class (new money) golf buddy spouts the oratory of the pub boor – he and the vet share a couple of pointless scenes to pad out the running time.

 

Guy is reluctant to let the vet do his job, but all this is a metaphor for his inability to recognise that his ex-wife’s finally got him out of her system.  He is unable to let go and move on, do you see?

 

Finally, he realises the poor pooch can’t be allowed to suffer any longer. He pulls out a rifle (he and Pub Boor were on their way for a spot of clay pigeon shooting after golf, don’tcha know?) but can’t bring himself to pull the trigger.   Heaven forbid the shot should ricochet off the Aga.   He decides instead to suffocate the mutt with a carrier bag – HILARIOUSLY a “bag for life”.  But he is too late. Toby has slipped away without human intervention.  Guy is grief-stricken.  Miranda returns to change her heels into more suitable footwear for a head-clearing walk, and enfolds him in an embrace of consolation.  Cue the leer over her shoulder to the audience.  Guy places both hands on her buttocks.  The end.  The audience is at last put out of its misery – except they weren’t.  Some of them sounded like they were enjoying this twaddle.  Were they recognising their own lives on the stage, and enjoying the mockery of themselves?  I don’t think so.  There was none of the archness, wit or subversion of The Importance of Being Earnest.  Perhaps Nigel Havers’s considerable fan base believe he can do no wrong.

 

When characters refer to each other as “darling” every other line, you know you’re in trouble.  This old-fashioned tiresome tripe should have been tied in a sack weighted with house bricks and flung in the nearest canal.