Glorious! @ Duchess Theatre, London

cast list
Maureen Lipman
William Oxborrow
Janie Booth
Josie Kidd
Barrie Ingham
Lolly Susi

directed by
Alan Strachan

Florence Foster Jenkins – often known as Madam Jenkins – believed she was blessed with a divine voice. She believed it was her duty to share her music with her friends and eventually her public. This belief went hand in hand with a deep desire to entertain and create the kind of spectacle people would long remember; as such this 1940s New York socialite, who inherited money from her father, would often perform at charity recitals and sell records.

Gradually she became a New York phenomenon – with one little catch. Spectacularly tone-deaf, her voice did not match her determination, not that this put off the audiences that flocked to see her, it was all part of her appeal.

It’s commonplace in theatrical productions for there to be at least one weak link, an actor or character that does not quite work, that fails to resonate, and as such undermines the overall effect. However occasionally a play comes along where the casting is perfect, where each part enhances the others and Glorious! is that rare beast; there are only six characters but it is impossible to imagine any other actors inhabiting the roles quite so well.

Maureen Lipman plays Madam Jenkins with equal quantities of wit and self-determination. From the moment she steps on stage, well padded but well-dressed, she completely convinces the audience. Certain mannerisms, which in anyone else might seem false, give her real warmth and charm: the strange laugh, slightly drawling accent and horrible voice make you love her in spite of yourself.

Florence was famous for her outrageous costumes and stage antics and this play draws on this. As Lipman stalks the stage in angel’s wings, it’s likely that you’ll laugh so hard you’ll cry.

In fact it is easy to understand how Cosme Mcmoon, played beautifully by William Oxborrow, fell under her spell despite himself. As the piano player with an ingenious, insouciant wit, equally dismayed and dazzled by Madame Jenkins, Oxborrow has all the best lines and lingers most in the memory. Through his character’s genuine affection for this unique woman, he becomes increasingly endearing.

Janie Booth is also wonderful as the scary Spanish maid Maria, who, despite never saying a word in English, manages to make a considerable impact.

Josie Kidd, as Dorothy, a friend and admirer of Madam Jenkins, displays her own eccentricities. Despite her odd quivering voice and her suspiciously inactive dog it’s impossible not to like her.

As St Clair, an aging actor with a spring in his step, who, despite obviously enjoying the perks that come along with Florence’s money, seems to care for her deeply, Barrie Ingham brings a more upbeat note to the production, obviously enjoying himself greatly. And, as Florence’s nemesis, Mrs Verindah-Gedge, Lolly Susi exudes big busted indignation; in her performance there is a definite air of the dowager in the Marx Brothers’ Night at the Opera.

Glorious! is the first comedy to be written by Peter Quilter – I certainly hope there will be more to come. Though not a flawless production, the humour was so genuine and the laughs so frequent, that to complain would be petty. Glorious! is pretty near to being as good as its name. Recommended.

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