4 JULY 2022
The extraordinary story of the soprano Florence Foster Jenkins, dubbed ‘the worst singer in the world’ was revitalised by the 2016 film starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant; this play, on the same subject, premiered in 2005 starring Maureen Lipman.
The third show in the Sidmouth Summer Play Festival presented by Paul Taylor-Mills is an unalloyed triumph! Peter Quilter’s script is beautifully, and very well, written; it is joyous on the ear, even if Florence’s singing isn’t. Foster Jenkins became a phenomenon in the early 1940’s with her recitals at balls and concert halls, largely unaware that her singing voice was just terrible; she shrugged off criticism if she heard it and battled on amidst elaborate sets and costumes.
Director Claire Evans has gathered a top-notch cast, all of whom throw themselves into their eccentric characters, providing the audience with an evening of sublime fun and hysterical laughter. Hilary Harwood has performed in a number of shows where she has been required to sing; as comedian Les Dawson would play the piano badly for laughs while being an excellent pianist, so playing Florence requires outrageously awful singing – you cannot do it without being highly competent and it requires great skill to achieve. This is a performance of pathos, conviction and joy and the singing is an utter triumph.
There is something of the Nathan Lane in Brendan Matthew’s portrayal of Cosme McMoon, Florence’s new unsuspecting accompanist; it is a performance which is perfectly poised on the edge of camp and is brought to life by the actor’s wonderful facial expressions and sharp delivery. Dominic McChesney fits the role of St Clair Byfield, Florence’s English boyfriend, like a glove; an effortlessly terrific performance choc-a-bloc full of huge laughs and pithy wit.
Julie Ross imbues Florence’s friend Dorothy with a dotty innocence which adds to the laughter and Marion Tovey is spot-on as the Mexican housemaid Maria (her Spanish appears to be impeccable) and as the ‘protestor’ Mrs Verrinder-Gedge.
As you might expect, there is much music in the production, incidental and integral, and the accompaniments are provided by Gabi King who also offers some of her own beautiful composition; Brendan Matthew executes his ‘performance’ of the pieces faultlessly.
The action moves around from Florence’s home to concert halls and elsewhere and Andrew Beckett’s set is sumptuous and ideal as is the smart lighting from Joe Underwood.
Claire Evans directs with a love of the material and knows just how far to push the laughter and where the many touching moments require centre stage. It is a mark of the production that the audience embrace what is happening by joining in with the sound effects of applause, cheers and boos.
This is an exquisite piece of theatre and the people of Sidmouth are so fortunate to have it on their doorstep – if you haven’t got a ticket, get one – ‘GLORIOUS’ runs until 9 July and tickets are available on www.manorpavilion.comand 01395 514413
The Summer Play Festival has got off to a tremendous start and there are still 9 plays to come with Agatha Christie’s ‘THE UNEXPECTED GUEST’ playing from 11-16 July.
The cost of fuel, food, strikes and travel disruption may be causing us all headaches, so be distracted by classy theatre and a chance to laugh your socks off; it is, well, just glorious!
CAST & CREATIVES
FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS – HILARY HARWOOD
COSME MCMOON – BRENDAN MATTHEW
ST CLAIR – DOMINIC MCCHESNEY
DOROTHY – JULIE ROSS
MARIA/MRS VERRINDER-GEDGE – MARION TOVEY
WRITER – PETER QUILTER
DIRECTOR – CLAIRE EVANS
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – JOE UNDERWOOD
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
MUSIC SUPERVISOR – GABI KING
PHOTO IMAGE – ALASDAIR EVANS
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS
SEASON PRODUCER – CLAIRE EVANS