Maurice and Helena have been married for 66 years. They have their own in-jokes, one providing the setup, the other the punchline – a familiar routine that irritates them both as much as it shows their love and devotion.
Except there’s another woman. 59 years ago, jeweller Maurice was charged with looking over the crown jewels on the night before the Coronation. A chance meeting with the princess who would the following day become queen caused him to fall in love, with a depth that overshadowed his family relationships ever since.
In 2012, Maurice is looking forward to the evening of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee – also his 90th birthday – in the belief that the Queen will fulfil a promise made on a whim that night six decades earlier. But the cancer which is riddling his body may have other ideas.
In Nichola McAuliffe’s warm, poignant and often hilarious script, Maurice is a gentle optimist whose main (and somewhat huge) failing is to not see how his obsession with the Queen has damaged both his marriage and his relationship with his son. In Julian Glover’s hands, Maurice’s faults become endearing, even though they are outshone by the heartbreak visible in Sheila Reid’s eyes.
This is Glover’s play. His performance as the geriatric coming to terms with having just weeks to live is exemplary – and then, at the end of Act One, his extended monologue takes us back to the day he fell in love with Her Majesty. And we are there with them both, utterly convinced that he is 31 again, and Princess Elizabeth is slow dancing with him in Buckingham Palace. It’s a captivating combination of writing and delivery – and one that demonstrates that, no matter the size of the Waterside auditorium, it can contain the most intimate of moments.
McAuliffe’s Katy, the palliative care nurse who moves in to the couple’s Penge bungalow, is somewhat less of the striking, confident figure we are more used to seeing this actress portray. Instead of a shrew, we get a mouse: a lifetime of being made to believe she is inferior produces a woman who lives down to those expectations, but never lets that stop her caring for others. It’s a good performance, but by the end of the first act we are left wondering just why she won The Stage’s Best Actress award for this role at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Post-interval, though, you begin to see why, after Kay comes up with an idea that could make Maurice’s dream of tea with the Queen come true. (Not having made it up to Edinburgh last year, I have no idea how Glover – nominated for Best Actor in the same awards – did not win; there must have been some impressive competition.)
The final conversation between McAuliffe and Glover is full of the humour, warmth and pathos that characterises the entire play. The final few seconds of the play, in contrast, feel a little too quickly paced, the dialogue a little too obvious. By the end of the play, we want our goodbye to these three characters to have a little more care.
Or maybe it’s just that, thanks to Glover’s performance of McAuliffe’s script, and to our memories of those in our own families who we have lost, we are not always ready to say goodbye.
Maurice’s Jubilee is at the Aylesbury Waterside until February 2, then touring to Bath, Woking, Richmond, Brighton, Birmingham, Malvern, Bromley, Cambridge, Windsor and Oxford. For more details, www.mauricesjubilee.com or @MauricesJubilee on Twitter.