Printable CopyGLORIOUS!
Therry Dramatic Society
The Arts Theatre
Until 17 Feb 2018

Review by Maggie Wood

Therry’s latest offering, directed by Geoff Brittain, is “Glorious” – the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, the woman who was called the worst opera singer in the world.

From the 1920s to 1940s, Jenkins conducted private singing recitals, interviewing each potential audience member before they were allowed to attend. Seemingly unaware of the dismal quality of her voice, she dismissed critics and encouraged loyal friends to support her. Some say the delusion held due to the treatment she was receiving for the syphilis she contracted from her first husband – arsenic and mercury.

Sue Wylie as Florence Foster Jenkins displays real talent in singing so badly, so flawlessly. Her performance places Jenkins as a robust, yet deluded character. While Jenkins believes her voice to be melodious, Wylie has cleverly placed most of her speaking voice high in the throat, thoroughly upending that perception. Combined with the strident delivery, the portrayal is faintly reminiscent of TV sitcom character Mrs Bouquet. The similarities of delusion between the characters are not missed.

Stuart Pearce as her partner St Clair is suave and smooth. Is he a con man? One minute he’s all devotion to Jenkins and the next he is pursuing, literally, at least one other woman.

Jenny Penny plays Dorothy, a devoted friend to Jenkins who lusts after pianist McMoon, and is in turn lusted after by St Clair.

Laura Antoniazzi does well in a trope-ridden role as an angry Italian maid, and Julia Whittle is all majesty and outrage as Mrs Verrinder-Gedge who cannot see why everyone is playing along with Jenkins’ delusions.

The character with the plum part is Jock Dunbar, playing Jenkins’ pianist Cosme McMoon.
McMoon is the counterpoint to the blind devotion in the Jenkins inner camp. Blessed with the show’s sharpest lines and waspish comments this role pierces the bluster and delusion of the Jenkins entourage. Dunbar is appealing, and somewhat underplays his scepticism. There is potential he could bring even more to his initial bewilderment.

The set, by Ole Wiebkin and team is lush, and costumes by Gilian Cordell and team are spot-on. Particular mention goes to The Angel of Inspiration costume by David and Trudi Williams.

Through it all the cast battle with a script that cannot decide if it is a farcical comedy holding Jenkins up as a figure of ridicule, or a story with insight into the ability of friends and supporters to look beyond the surface and see a kind and generous heart.

The number of sly-asides (that contribute nothing to the plot) intimating that Cosmo is gay is as astonishing as they are dated – even to the point of a tortuous ‘friend of Dorothy’ punchline. A plot device of an obviously toy dog that is supposed to be a real, yet dead, dog, is baffling.

The script lurches between ‘Carry-On…’ and British 70s sitcom style (both evidenced by St Clair licentiously chasing Dorothy around a table) without ever settling quite into one or the other. There is little nuance or compassion in this script by English writer Peter Quilter.

If you are interested in the motivations thoughts and dynamics of Florence Foster Jenkins, then this is not the show for you. However, if you are up for a laugh, going by the enthusiastic reaction of the audience on opening night, it succeeded in delivering.