REVIEW: Maurice’s Jubilee (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday, March 2nd)

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An amusing and deeply moving new play filled with charm and surprises is surely the jewel in the crown of the Theatre Royal, Brighton’s impressive spring season.

Critically acclaimed and playing to sell-out audiences at last year’s Edinburgh Festival, Maurice’s Jubilee has an old world quaintness and appeal, yet delivers a powerful message about old age, treasured memories, the timelessness of love, the quirkiness of relationships, and the cruelty of death threatening to rob us of our dreams.

That fine actress Nichola McAuliffe proves her writing prowess in an engaging and impressive play that never falls into misery, and in spite of what could so easily be harrowing and heartbreaking there is a gentle humour that shines through. Director Hannah Eidinow allows the sheer magic of the writing and the strength of the performances to work their own enchantment.

McAuliffe herself plays a nurse, employed to look after a dying man whose days are well and truly numbered after an ultimately satisfying life of nearly 90 years.

What sadnesses there are in his life surround his son – long emigrated to Australia – and his long-suffering wife, played by Sheila Reid, showing every ounce of frustration yet also loyalty at being married to the lovable but maddening Maurice.

Maurice is in the last weeks of his life, but remains committed to an oft-told story of how 60 years previously – when a successful jeweller – he was called upon to guard the Crown Jewels on the night before the Queen’s Coronation, and of how they met, chatted, and promised to meet for tea if he should ever hit the grand old age of 90 and she should ever reach her Diamond Jubilee.

It is difficult to describe Julian Glover as Maurice as anything other than sensational. He manages to be roguish as well as endearing and always has such a twinkle in his eye it is hard to know if his belief in the Queen’s promise is mere fantasy, aged delusion, unlikely obsession or contains a grain of truth. He has an exceptionally lengthy monologue at the end of the first act which is so expertly delivered that you can hear a pin drop among the hushed and enrapt audience.

The exploration of the relationships and the poignant resolution are dealt with so beautifully that there is barely a dry eye in the house.

Maurice’s Jubilee is one of those rare treats that you would be foolish to miss, a play of depth, whimsy and warmth, with three outstanding and memorable performances. Long may it reign over us!

David Guest