Peter Quilter
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and Touring

Peter Quilter's new play is about "Madam" Florence Foster Jenkins, the "Diva of Din", the "First Lady of the Sliding Scale", a middle-aged New York socialite who, in spite of not being able to sing, not only gave many concerts and recitals in smaller venues, actually filled Carnegie Hall. There's not much of a story, really, and the play ends with story-telling rather than story-showing as one of the characters, her accompanist Cosme McMoon, tells us of her death.

It is basically a one-joke comedy, the joke being Madam's inability to sing in tune, something which Maureen Lipman as Madam Jenkins does very well, although I did detect her being in tune a few times in her rendition of the Queen of the Night's aria from The Magic Flute! There are some witty remarks and some comic situations, one or two of which are rather laboured, but essentially that's all there is to it.

In the hands of a lesser cast, it could have been dull, even something of a trial, but Maureen Lipman, William Oxborrow (Cosme), Janie Booth (Maria), Barrie Ingham (St Clair), Josie Kidd (Dorothy) and Lolly Susi (Mrs Verindah-Gedge) get all they can out of it, aided in no small measure by Simon Higlett's magnificent set which should have equal billing with the actors. Dan Hoole's soundtrack, too, deserves mention, making the somewhat long scene changes actually quite enjoyable.

It could do with a bit of judicious cutting. For such a slight (although reasonably entertaining) piece it was rather long.

But I will never be able to listen to "Mein Herr Marquis" from Die Fledermaus or the Queen of the Night aria in quite the same way again!

Rivka Jacobson reviewed this production in the West End at the Duchess Theatre

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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