JUST for a moment I forgot I was at the Edinburgh Fringe, the cutting edge of theatre. Suddenly, I’d been transported to a theatre somewhere in the Home Counties. To a place where everyone is terribly polite, where seagulls fly upside down for fear of giving offence and where the real world seldom, if ever, impinges.
Welcome to the world of Maurice and Helena Hodger. Maurice is 89 and dying from cancer. He also has one single ambition left to fulfil before shuffling off this mortal coil. Helena, his wife, is in denial. She’s also angry, jealous and scared. Katy, the palliative care nurse, is in the middle.
The final days of a dying man and the impact on those around him should be touching, thought-provoking and gripping. All those things and more. In the case of Maurice’s Jubilee, they aren’t.
Not that the cast can be faulted. Their pedigree is impeccable. Julian Glover, instantly recognisable as Bond villain Aristotle Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only, is an Olivier Award-winning actor. As Maurice, he is strident and vulnerable simultaneously. Nichola McAuliffe, too, has an Olivier to her name. As Katy, she is the star turn of the piece, giving an eerily authentic portrayal of the Queen.
As Helena, Sheila Reid, beloved by millions as the acid-tongued Madge Harvey in Benidorm, openly wears her her despair. Raw and overwhelming, it is difficult to watch.
The problem is, Maurice’s Jubilee is the sort of play I thought (or maybe hoped) people had stopped writing 30 years ago. Yes, there are beautifully acerbic one-liners and tender moments to melt the hardest heart. There’s even a monologue – too long – in which Maurice opens his soul as he recalls meeting the Queen on the eve of the Coronation, but it’s all so predictable and safe. It’s twee, sycophantic and the dénouement comes as little, if any, surprise.
That said, I’m sure there’s still a matinee circuit in the south of England for work like this. I’m just not convinced the Edinburgh Fringe is a good fit.
n Until August 26