Writer: Nichola McAuliffe
Director: Hannah Eidinow
Reviewer: James Garrington
Maurice’s Jubilee was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012 to some very positive reviews, and has now been adapted for a national tour. It tells the story of an old man, ill and fallen on hard times, and his dreams, reminiscences and an old fantasy… or is it an old promise? On the face of it, that doesn’t make for a very happy evening at the theatre, but this play is in fact funny, thought-provoking and heart-warming. It is set in a very typical slightly shabby and dated suburban living room, one that many people may relate to, designed by Christopher Richardson with some attention to detail. Here we find Maurice, a retired jeweller who once lived in a mansion in Barnes until the recession and failure of the banks, and who now lives in a bungalow in Penge with his wife Helena. As the play starts to unfold it transpires that he is also living with a brain tumour – several in fact – and a palliative care nurse.
The script by Nichola McAuliffe is on the whole sharp and witty. It explores the feelings of a couple who have been together for sixty-six years as the time is approaching for them to be separated, without ever descending into the maudlin or morbid. There are many one-line gags, almost more like a TV sitcom than a stage play, but some of which are sometimes lost or not clearly heard. This is a play that is perhaps better suited to a more intimate venue than the New Alexandra Theatre, the size of which makes it quite difficult to get the connection between actor and audience that exists in smaller spaces.
Julian Glover as Maurice seems sometimes to be in rather too robust health to be a man nearing death. Even when he is starting to find it difficult to walk, his overall demeanour seems to remain fairly healthy. Glover is a tall and stocky man, which must make it hard to shrink physically in the way that many people do as they become terminally ill and so is not always entirely believable as a man on the point of dying. He comes into his own though, when he starts to recall an evening sixty years earlier, a night he claims to have spent in the company of the Queen on the eve of her Coronation. Here is a man who is living in the past, and clinging to the present so the Queen can fulfil a promise she allegedly made to him, to visit on his ninetieth birthday.
Sheila Reid plays his wife Helena as a woman at first in denial, then increasingly frustrated by Maurice’s steadfast belief and constant assertion that the Queen will be there; an assertion he has made constantly for sixty years. Helena has spent her entire life playing second fiddle to another woman, just as her part in this play is also rather playing second fiddle to the main protagonists. Reid treats the rôle beautifully, rolling her eyes in exasperation, losing her temper with Maurice, and then giving us a moment of real tenderness as she confides how much she loves him. Writer Nichola McAuliffe also appears on stage as palliative care nurse Katy, playing the part with appropriate bluntness and hearty good cheer with a finely pitched performance; she is not going to let Maurice feel sorry for himself, even as the end approaches, and McAuliffe the writer has given herself and Glover some fine, sharp dialogue that retains a level of wit throughout.
There is much about this play that is good, and many of the good points cannot be mentioned here for fear of revealing the twists and surprises. McAuliffe clearly has a fine eye for writing as well as her very apparent acting skills. Overall it is a piece with a clever storyline, and a script which is well-observed and at times very funny, but which maybe still needs a little polishing and wiser selection of venue if it is to have a successful life beyond its Fringe roots.
Runs until 9th March 2013
Picture: Phil Tragen