Skip to main content

Review of Glorious! from White Cobra Productions at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

I don't mind admitting that I am a huge fan of the work of White Cobra Productions, they have the ability to draw together the best of what the local amateur world has to offer and package it together in a professional way, they also have a knack for picking plays of quality, rarely performed or brand new material that makes them a breath of fresh air. Well mostly. I don't mind also admitting once again here, that their last show, Hi-de-Hi, felt a terrible misstep on their part, taking a show which was either so enrooted in the minds of some of its audience to single performers of the past, or a bamboozled collection of dated material to others, just didn't really work despite the talent and obvious effort of its cast. So, what of Glorious!, is this a, ahem, glorious return to form?

Short answer, incredibly so, long answer, below.

Glorious! (subtitled The Worst Singer in the World) tells the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins, an American socialite, active in the early part of the twentieth century. A woman of sufficient means, following her family inheritance, and therefore able to fulfil her dreams, large scale, of bringing her "magnificent" voice to the masses. It's quite a story, which were is fictional, you might baulk at its believability, but here in this play by Peter Quilter, it not only becomes joyful and uplifting but often uproariously funny.

As Florence, Kate Billingham executes a masterclass of comedy delivery, most especially realised in the musical performances. In the kindest possible way, this is singing of the most ear bleeding quality, and delivered with nuances of facial expression of magnificence. The naivety of Florence is also nicely created from Billingham's performance, bringing forth her belief that she truly is the best singer in the world. There is much depth there, despite this script being written for laughs much of the time, it leaves a deep sadness, yet hope at the end as well. We can't perhaps all follow our dreams, life doesn't always allow that, but at the end of the play, we perhaps can experience what it is like to be able to follow them through Florence, and maybe think a lot harder at trying to make ours come true.

Playing almost everything deadpan alongside Florence is Richard Jordan as her pianist Cosme McMoon. As he sits at the piano, sobbing inside, we live the pain of the singing through his expressions. Elsewhere, his timing of delivery is top notch, making this one of the best performances I have seen from him, close to that of the devastatingly brilliant Scaramouche Jones. His silent reaction to the Cole Porter pansies line is quite brilliant, as it's much of his silent exchanges. I delight in praising actors when they are not actually delivering lines, and here in that respect, Jordan is exceptional. There is also a tremendously well-played moment when McMoon is confronted by Florence's revelation that he shared a cab home with a gentleman. The hidden depth of this scene is not overplayed in any way, and all the more poignant in that respect of the difficulty at the time.

Fraser Haines is also at the top of his game as Florence's boyfriend St Clair Byfield, again perfectly cast (as is everyone in this production), and able to demonstrate his delightful plum delivery, direct from Bognor Regis no less. Kimberly Vaughan has great fun as Florence's best friend, more than willing to have a drink or three and always accompanied by her delightful poodle, who creates much mirth as well.

There is a brilliantly ridiculous performance by Victoria Miles as Mexican cook, Maria, who despite one rather obvious "Qué" moment that the knowing audience runs with, successfully avoids too much comparison to a certain Spanish waiter. It's true that Maria is really just a one-joke character, and little else, but credit to Miles that she always still manages to make her a hugely entertaining one. Finally, despite only a relatively small role, Lynne O'Sullivan creates a fun addition as Mrs Verrinder-Gedge,  an apparent lone voice against the travesty of music that she sees in Florence.

This whole production plays out on a gloriously constructed set from Rod Arkle, looking everything the 1940s world should embody. It also has many neat tricks to evolve through a few scene changes of three or four minutes. Regular readers of my blog would feel alarm bells striking soon, with mention of such long scene changes, however, here in Glorious! they become brilliant little creations of their own, as Arkle himself and Bernie Wood bring characters to life with their own silent story as they change the set, also capturing the moment in the story that the scenes are changed with relevant emotional changes. They are substantial changes it has to be said, but, if it's got to happen, this is the way they should be done, and I admit that I almost got emotional about how well they were executed.

Glorious! came as a surprise to me, knowing little ahead of seeing the show, but in the end, it struck me as a heartwarming tale, loving of its main character despite everything, and full of many truly funny lines. Director Ian Spiby has masterminded for me my favourite White Cobra Production that I have seen, with a cast of immense ability and this time occupying every role perfectly. It's difficult to say how much I truly enjoyed this show, but those few hundred above have hopefully expressed it with the style that Florence sings.

★★


Performance reviewed: Wednesday 8th March 2018 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

Glorious! runs until Saturday 10th March 2018 at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton before continuing its tour. For details visit: whitecobraproductions.co.uk

For full details about the Playhouse Theatre visit their website at playhousenorthampton.com

Popular posts from this blog

Review of DNA by University of Northampton BA Actors at Jacksons Lane Theatre, Highgate, London

The final year performances of BA Actors this year upped sticks and headed away from their Northampton Royal territory and gathered to show their skills in London.

The first of the three shows being performed was Dennis Kelly's DNA, a play which I saw performed on the Royal stage itself four years ago. I enjoyed it for its dark mysterious nature and was looking forward to seeing a different interpretation of the show. It tells the tale of a group of youngsters who do something really bad, and proceed to attempt to cover it up, resulting in the real bad, well, getting more bad. It's dark yes, but also, very funny at times.

It opens with a looming movement piece of theatre, which I always love and this was no different for me, brooding and sinister. It's quite a long opening, which perhaps, in the end, becomes too long, but it's a fabulous piece of theatre for me. It set's the scene very well for Kelly's dark piece to unfold and in the hands of these, about to gr…

Review of Crimes Under The Sun at The Core, Corby

It is safe to say that there have been a lot of Agatha Christie spoofs kicking around over the years, they are ripe material to plunder, and often feeling as if the original author was even sending them up at times as well. So, to discover another one on stage at The Core Theatre in Corby is no surprise.

New Old Fiends' Crimes Under the Sun is a patch above many of them, a speedy, witty and genuinely ingenious take on a Poirot influenced case (no prizes for guessing Evil Under the Sun). As our lead, we have a curiously Belgian detective Artemis Arinae, Poirot in all but name, and more specifically gender (it's the first thing I noticed about her, to steal a joke). The show opens relatively badly, with a rather long introduction from our detective played by Jill Myers. It is the only downside of the evening, as once the stage is full of the quite brilliant collection of characters, this show whips along with an amazing intensity.

The characters created in Crimes Under the Sun …

Review of The Wizard Of Oz by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

The last couple of shows from the award-winning Northampton Musical Theatre Company has been a slightly mixed bag, with their last show at Derngate the rather difficult to get a grip on thrills of Grease, a woefully inferior stage version of the classic film despite being very well performed. Their best show recently was ironically Summer Holiday, hidden at the much smaller Cripps venue. Therefore still in the wake of the exceptional Sister Act, does The Wizard of Oz create the Derngate magic once again?

The answer for me, is both yes and no, it is as always an exceptional production filled from top to tail with talent, as NMTC is so renowned for, and packing the audience in and thrilling them like perhaps nothing like Oz can in the musical department, you cannot question its selection really. However, like Grease, and to readjust a requote, "it's just Oz". This time I use it in the way that Oz is just a little over-familiar, I am desperate for the buzz that I got from