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

Maurice's cast

Phil Nooney as Maurice, Pip Olliver as Katy and Sandra Haynes as Helena. Pictures: Emily White

Maurice’s Jubilee

Highbury Theatre Centre


From a posh mansion apartment in Barnes to a modest bungalow in Penge, retired jeweller and one-time commando Maurice and his long-suffering wife Helena have downsized after they, or rather all their money had had an encounter and lost with Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley.

And moving with them is the Queen. Not in person, obviously, changing the guard outside a bungalow in the depths of south east London would be silly, but she might as well have come with them in this gentle comedy of two love stories.

You see Maurice, being a jeweller and ex-commando, had met the young Elizabeth as part of his duties on the eve of her coronation and had made her a promise, a promise he was determined to keep, all to be revealed when she arrived for tea on his 90th birthday, the eve of her jubilee.

And that was the problem. He firmly believed HRH was going to turn up on his doorstep at 4pm on his fast approaching 90th for a slice of Victoria sponge and cup of Twinings English Breakfast. But that was only the half of it, his supposed encounter with the Queen, and we only have his word for it, had dominated his life, and, more importantly the lives of his wife and son Ronald, for the past, almost,  60 years.

They, and anyone in earshot, had heard the story so many times they probably knew it better than he did. You had the feeling Helena was jealous, jealous that he probably loved the Queen more than her, while Ronald, now 65, had had the same feeling, and had emigrated to Australia and become a sheep farmer – you suspect to get away. He and Maurice had not spoken in more than two years.

There is a snag in Maurice’s unbreakable faith though, He has terminal cancer with a prognosis that runs in days or at best weeks – so reaching his 90th is beyond medical science and down to pure will power, or stubbornness in his case.

Phil Nooney manages to give us a Maurice who is going downhill scene by scene, indeed the audience are probably ready for an early night as it doesn’t look as if the poor old sod is going to make it through the second act.

Maurice and Katy

Maurice may be dying but death is yet to arrive and life, what little is left of it, is there to be lived, every precious minute of it, with nurse Katy his companion on the journey 

He’s a mix of cantankerous and pathos. There is a steely determination to survive to 4pm on his birthday, plus time for refreshments of course, and a sort of resentment that people don’t have his conviction about the impending royal visit, or indeed a complete belief in his meeting with the Queen on 1 June, 1953.

Helena is his “queen of hearts” and there is love there, married 65 years has to have some affection as the glue holding it together. His love for the queen is . . . who knows, what we do know is it is there all the time, Was the meeting even real? It is something Helena learned to at least tolerate, if not quite live with many years ago.

Maurice might not have a Hollywood love affair with Helena but he cares in his own way. He has brought in a palliative nurse he doesn't really want to take much of the burden of caring for him away, he tries to keep the worst news away from her and even his estranged son is protected. He doesn’t want him told his father is dying, doesn’t want him rushing over, “just let him send flowers”.

At the end of Act 1 Maurice opens up to his nurse, Katy, about his meeting with the young Elizabeth, It is a mammoth monologue, a short story in itself. We perhaps don’t understand Maurice’s obsession, but at least we understand how he got there and the details of his other love story.

It is hard to die of cancer in a dignified manner, but Maurice tries, even getting decked out in his Sunday best ready for her majesty’s arrival. The visit has been part of his life since 1953 and now it has taken over his life - the only thing he is living for.

Helena, played beautifully by Sandra Haynes fusses around like a rather forgetful mother hen. She has not come to terms with their life in penury, and never will. She is a woman in denial, convinced that Maurice will recover and only has a bit of a headache – a conviction you suspect that is born more out of fear than hope.

She prattles on about anything that comes into her head – almost as if talking about something, anything, will keep the truth at bay. Reality is starting to break through though, her claim to be 25 years younger than Maurice seems empty after 65 years of marriage. The strain is telling on her though as she talks about their sex life, or lack of it, their sleeping in separate beds, because of his snoring, and his weapon's grade flatulence.

Maurice and drip

A dying Maurice and his life companion Katy are closing in on journey's end

Standing above it all is the palliative nurse Katy, played with a deft touch by the excellent Pip Olliver, who, by one of life’s strange coincidences, just happens to be a palliative care nurse in the community in real life, so can bring the empathy of experience to the part, which she does quite beautifully.

Katy is a steadying influence, a woman unmarried, living with her father, whose life, or at least love life, has passed by unnoticed and there is some touching flirting by the dying Maurice.

It all sounds like a night where everyone in the audience should be given the number of The Samaritans as they go in. We have a wife who is not quite all there, her cancer-ridden husband on morphine unlikely to see out the play, living, or in this case dying, with his loony idea the Queen is going to turn up on his doorstep.

In his morphine induced state we are not even sure if his reality and ours are on the same page!

 The only normal character is the nurse who is trying manfully to hold the pair up as they fall apart.

Except it isn’t a depressing, slit-yer-wrists drama at all. It has pathos, yes, and sadness, but it also has plenty of humour and laugh out loud moments. Actress author Nichola McAuliffe has created a gentle comedy with two eccentric characters facing a situation we all hope we can avoid, and they do it with good humour – and tinned salmon.

All right the storyline might be fanciful, but it works well enough, is well written and director Denise Phillips keeps everything grounded sufficiently to make the narrative believable, all aided by three excellent and credible performances.

Malcolm Robertshaw’s nothing fancy, bungalow set is enhanced as time goes on with the medical equipment such as oxygen bottles and drips loaned by John Taylor Hospice in Erdington, who deal with people like Maurice day in and day out.

The result is an easy going, gentle and at times very funny journey with Maurice to his tea with the Queen. Does he get there, does she come? Does the speaking clock ever speak again? Well, if I told you that it would spoil it for you. You have until 30-10-21 to find out.

Roger Clarke


Highbury Theatre Centre

John Taylor Hospice

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