Review – Maurice’s Jubilee at the Barn Theatre: ‘I admired and enjoyed this production’
Maurice’s Jubilee has opened at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Maggie Blackburn reviews Nichola McAuliffe’s play.
This is a delightful play, an attractive mixture of gentle humour, unflinching realism and what may or may not be charming fantasy – each individual audience member has to decide.
It’s about 89-year-old Maurice, a retired jeweller with not very long to live, who is determined to survive until his 90th birthday, when he is convinced the Queen is going to call on him.
He tells a rather astonishing story about the past event that led him to this conviction, but his wife is prone to pour cold water on the tale, which he has been re-telling to her intense irritation for much of their married life.
Apart from the play itself, the great strength of this production lies in extraordinarily skilled performances by the three actors.
Suzie Major, as the live-in nurse Katy, is completely believable as the experienced professional who comes to believe in Maurice’s story.
I don’t know if Ms Major has nursing experience, but she most certainly looks throughout as though she knows exactly what she is doing.
And there is an extended passage near the end of the play – I shan’t spoil it by saying more – where she achieves the most virtuoso piece of acting I’ve seen for some time.
Barn newcomer Barbara Holgate-Stuckey is equally convincing as Maurice’s wife Helena, with precisely that feeling of persistent irritation concealing the deeply buried concern and affection that is so typical of long-married couples.
I loved her little solo number, when she tidies up the room whilst dancing the samba to the music of Edmundo Ross. Brilliant!
Simon Parr, as Maurice, didn’t look anything like 90 years old last time I saw him in a Barn production – he played Alan Bennett in The Lady in the Van last year – but he makes a pretty believable old man in this.
One reason for his success is that he doesn’t overdo the age thing – he’s clearly physically frail by the end, but he’s still mentally very sharp, with a sly sense of humour.
The high point of his performance is the account of his encounter with Queen Elizabeth on the night before her coronation in 1953. A magical piece of writing, beautifully performed.
I must also say that this skilled cast get every laugh they are entitled to from a script that is much funnier than I had appreciated from a quick reading beforehand.
Rosemary Bianchi’s direction of the piece is sure-footed throughout, the set makes the stage look twice as big as it really is, and there is one wickedly accurate costume which gets a well-deserved laugh. As you may have guessed, I admired and enjoyed this production.
• Maurice’s Jubliee plays at the Barn until Saturday, April 1, with evening performances at 8pm and a matinee on April 1 at 2.30pm.
Tickets cost £12, available from www.barntheatre.co.uk