Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Jen Eglinton as Florence Foster Jenkins showered by white roses at the end of her performance at Carnegie Hall. Pictures: Colin Hill


The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre



I have had the good fortune to review amateur theatre now for several years. In that time I have encountered the sneer of disapproval by those parties disinterested in theatre in general and, at times, so called professionals, many of whom have presented their arguments via a variety of imagined issues.

Issues such as a lack of formal training on the actor’s part, or the absence of money, that creates a perceived limitation in the staging of work.

But in my time I have seen many productions that have exceeded the pros hands down and have been glad to be present as such productions. Conversely, I have attended several pro productions where I was first out of my seat at the curtain call, having endured two hours of self-indulgent drivel. It remains of course a fact that you can’t please everyone, but I still champion the power and calling of amateur theatre.

So if there was ever a production that portrayed the spirit of why `Community theatre‘ is so engaging it is The Nonentities production of Glorious by Peter Quilter.

It’s the unlikely story of socialite and amateur opera singer, Florence Foster Jenkins. At the age of 74, Jenkins managed to sell out her self-funded solo appearance at Carnegie hall and all with her less than perfect singing voice.

Many regarded her at the time as an embarrassing joke and of course gravitated to the obvious comparison of the perfection of professionals, much in the same way amateur theatre is viewed today.

But Jenkins was in love with music and while there may have been an element of vanity or self-delusion in her abilities to sing perfectly, it didn’t stop her. Was she in on the joke, did she play a part? no one knows

It’s ironic though that her first given name was Narcissa, a feminine form of that given in the Greek legend of a youth that was enamoured with his own reflection, so you can decide. Although she may have sang poorly, no one can deny that she did sing and that love of performance was felt and shared by and with a great many people.

That love for performance is exactly the spirit that shone in the company’s production of this play. Jenkins’ pianist Cosme McMoon was played Stuart Wishart. McMoon was clearly aware that his soloist lacked musical intonation, but he came to love her and the humour in the play comes through the many innuendos and comments on her ability which were all timed to perfection. 

glorious cast

Stuart Wishart (left) as Cosme McMoon, Jen Eglinton as Florence Foster Jenkins,  Hannah Tolley as Maria and Patrick Bentley as St Clair Byfield

Jenkins co habited with a British actor, St Clair Byfield played here by Patrick Bentley. The couple clearly lived a flamboyant life and it was Byfields' love for her that gave her the confidence to rise above the many critics she encountered. 

Her close friend Dorothy, played by Pam Meredith, was also a great source of comfort and support and that friendship was apparent on stage. Added comedy came in the form of Maria, the Spanish or Mexican maid - we are never quite sure - played to great effect by Hanna Tolley.

Then finally the key central role of Florence Foster Jenkins, played by Jen Eglington. The role has been played by Meryl Streep in a glossy movie version which was highly respected and nominated for a great many awards.

However, Jen Eglinton’s performance did more as by default she embodies the real nature of Jenkins by the very fact that this was and is an amateur production. The fact that Jen is doing this for the love of acting and not an Oscar made her presence on the stage in the role very real.

Did she play it perfectly? no, did she remember all her lines? no, did she knock over a few props? yes. Then, crucially, did she manage to sing badly, well of course - that was a given, but delightfully, her natural inability to not hold a note was the best method acting seen. Her performance was perhaps not the best. but it was the best it could be and that was all you could ask for. And the audience felt it too.

Her pianist McMoon delivers a monologue at the close of the play summoning up what she meant to those around her. In many ways it was if Stuart Wishart was caringly reflecting on this production, the play and the players.

Amateur stage is there for the love of theatre.  When it’s good it’s very good and when it’s bad it’s also sometimes good. The commitment to deliver a dramatic work shines through in a family of likeminded players doing their best to entertain and that is always the case with the Nonentities Company.

When you look beyond the imperfection and refrain from making indulgent comparisons, then sometimes it’s Glorious. To 18-05-19.

Jeff Grant


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