Dying to meet you, ma'am

Julian Glover as Maurice, Sheila Reid as Helena and Nichola McAuliffe as Katy

Maurice's Jubilee

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

NICHOLA McAuliffe's bittersweet three-hander is a touching and beautifully written love story – two love stories really – that make up the life of tactless, insensitive, obstinate, infuriating yet still loveable . . . and dying Maurice.

According to the statistics one in three will experience cancer and among the trio on stage it is Maurice who has drawn life's short straw. To him it is an inconvenience and he doesn't go in for fighting the disease, no point. He prefers his late mother's way of dealing with the disease when it struck her; you have an accommodation with it “you keep your side and I'll keep mine”.

And perhaps it worked because he is determined and succeeds in reaching his 90th birthday despite it being weeks past the limited time of his prognosis measured in little more than days.

The birthday has a significance much greater then another zero milestone between birth and eternity, to Maurice, it is a date when he is expecting a special visitor, his own, personal jubilee.

For in 1953 Maurice, an ex-commando and then a young jeweller, had been tasked with taking the crown jewel's from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey for the Coronation and guarding them overnight. And, for 60 years, he had been telling anyone who would listen, or to be more accurate, anyone within earshot and couldn't escape, how he had met and even danced with the Queen.

She was the love of his life, a fantasy maybe, but to Maurice it was a relationship as real, and as enduring, as that he had with his wife Helena, his other love story.

If truth be known it had always been in the background of his relationship with Helena, an affair of the mind that had been going on for 60 years building up to this moment. According to Maurice, the young Princess Elizabeth, as she then was, had promised to come to tea 60 years on for his 90th birthday.

Nichola McAuliffe, who plays Katy, has written a gentle script about a difficult subject

Maurice and Helena are played beautifully by old hands Julian Glover and Sheila Reid and while Maurice accepts he is going to die – but not until after his birthday – Helena, who claims she is 65 but has lied about her age for half a century, is in denial. She thinks vitamins and healthy food will soon see him right and he will shake it off as if cancer is a particularly persistent and virulent cold.

She has learned to live with Maurice's obsession with the Queen but in a moment of bitterness tells him how she remembers the night before the Coronation just as well as he does; it was the night she had to take their son, then aged five, to hospital with his first asthma attack "and you weren't there!". Son Ronnie had long ago escaped to Australia.

The pair don't have the sort of love that you see in Hollywood films, all soft focus and violinists hidden in the wardrobe, nor do they manage the passion and romance of lovers in Austen or Bronte, as Helena says: “He loves me but he is not in love with me”.

But it is a marriage that has lasted intact even through the financial crash which saw all their savings go down in banker-stoked flames. They have lost their mansion flat in Barnes and now have to think twice about every penny they spend – but they are still together and still love each other in their own way.

Into their lives comes Katy, a palliative nurse, to ease Maurice's final days, played by McAuliffe herself, who is bright and breezy, but with a sadness somewhere deep behind her smile, a reluctant acceptance that she is unmarried, with no children or relationship, living with her father.

We learn much about each character through three monologues with Glover's description of his night with the Queen a study in how to hold an audience with nothing more than the spoken word. 

McAuliffe also gives us a wonderful portrayal of the Queen in an ending that, to be honest, could probably have been seen coming from space – except are we seeing reality?

Maurice is 90, with terminal cancer and a drip, presumably morphine, giving him his own, personal world, induced comfort for his final few hours. Is the ending presented to us coming from his world or is it really in ours?

The propensity for over-sentimentality is enormous but McAuliffe manages, largely, to avoid the maudlin pitfalls presented by the situation she has created, instead she gives us the mixture of sniping and affection which are the daily routine in many a well worn marriage - familiarity living up to its reputation.

She gives us plenty of one liners and even a couple of new jokes from a Maurice who is never going to go down gracefully, or for that matter miserably. Have you heard the one about the dying retired jeweller and all that.

There are a few weak points, a few holes in logic, but aided by three fine performances, McAuliffe's own included, this is a poignant and funny play that deals with death and old age without even a hint of mawkishness - indeed it is refreshingly open with some lovely lines to bring fresh life to dying. It was a smash hit at last year's Edinburgh Festival and it is easy to see why.

Directed by Hannah Eidinow it runs to 9-03-13.

Roger Clarke

And from the waiting room . . .

****

THIS charming play, packed with amusing one-liners despite the key figure being terminally ill, leaves the audience to make up their own minds about one major issue.

Did retired jeweller and former soldier, Maurice, really meet the Queen on the eve of her Coronation, and if so will she fulfil a promise to pop in for tea if he is still alive at the time of her Jubilee?

Now living in a bungalow with his wife, Maurice has a brain tumour, needs constant care from a nurse, but is determined to reach his 90th birthday convinced that the monarch will call.

Olivier Award winner Julian Glover is superb as the prickly patient who insists he had a brief dance with the Queen and fell in love with her when in her company checking the Crown Jewels before the Coronation.

Bravely fighting his illness he can be charming, funny or fly into a rage, and there is a delightful performance from Benidorm star Sheila Reid as Helena, his loyal wife for the past 60, who clearly doesn't believe the story. Her range of expressions speak volumes.

The comedy, a huge hit at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival, was written by actress Nichola McAuliffe who actually plays the nurse, Katy, and is terrific in the role, especially when she also becomes the Queen on Maurice's 90th birthday.

Wearing one of those flying-saucer like hats, pearls and an expensive brooch, and switching on a posh voice, she has some wonderful exchanges with thrilled Maurice before they both pop off.

A few minutes later Nurse Katy arrives, apologizing for being late . . . so was it really the Queen who had tea with the patient after all? Who knows.

Directed by Hannah Eidinow, Maurice's Jubilee runs to Saturday night (Mar 9). Well worth a 'royal' visit. 

Paul Marston

Home Alex  Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre