Julie Bainbridge reviews Maurice’s Jubilee, Nichola McAuliffe’s feel-good play, directed by Hannah Eidinow at Bath’s Royal Theatre.
This delightful three-hander is written by the actress Nicola McAuliffe and gently explores the fading relationship between an aging married couple. McAuliffe believes that ‘All the best stories are in the third act of life’ and Maurice’s Jubilee more than fulfils that premise.
Maurice and Helena have downsized to a suburban bungalow. They are living out their retirement in penury after losing their investments in the Bradford and Bingley and Northern Rock banking crises. Now Maurice is dying but he wants to make it to his ninetieth birthday because of a promise he made to the Queen. Julian Glover plays the terminally ill Maurice who made a pact with the young Elizabeth on the eve of her Coronation. As a jeweller and former commando, he had been despatched to the palace to collect and guard the crown jewels overnight. Only this night is also his birthday, and the young queen-to- be is captivated by the knowledgeable diamond expert. They dance together and young Maurice falls totally in love. They agree to meet up on his birthday, the eve of her Diamond Jubilee, a date so far into the future, neither imagines coming to pass.
Sheila Reid, as his long suffering wife Helena, doesn’t really believe the story and feels that she has played second fiddle to his obsession for the Queen for most of their married life. McAuliffe is superb as the palliative nurse, Katy and as the visitor who comes to call on Maurice’s 90th birthday.
McAuliffe won the Edinburgh Stage Award when the play premiered at the Edinburgh Festival, last year, and ably demonstrates her ability to play her two roles here. As Katy, she conveys a caring and capable nurse, able to speak frankly to the dying Maurice about his illness. In her role as the birthday guest, she leaves the audience guessing as to her true identity right up to the final moment. Glover’s Maurice is a well crafted mixture of protective and loving concern for his wife and flirty old guard with his nurse. His monologue at the end of act one in which he retells his Coronation eve tale, leaves the audience spell bound.
The play is well sprinkled with gems, especially diamonds which McAuliffe uses as a metaphor for jealousy and regret. At the end of the play, when Maurice produces a magnificent necklace, his life’s work, diamonds also become a metaphor for redemption and forgiveness.
The old fashioned set and the traditional structure of the play tend to lend a dated feel to the piece. Yet as the play progresses, the witty dialogue and gentle theme of aging capture the warmth and endearing quality of this charming play. It is certainly a play to catch if you want to leave the theatre feeling good.