“If things don’t wobble when you walk, you should eat more dinner”
Between Maureen Lipman in the West End and Meryl Streep in Hollywood, the story of notorious singer Florence Foster Jenkins has become much more widely known over the last decade. It does however remain one that I had somehow avoided and so the chance to see see the Peter Quilter play Glorious! with the marvellous Stella Gonet in the lead was one I gladly took. It also meant my first trip to the Frinton Summer Theatre out by the seaside in Essex.
Foster Jenkins’ insistence on pursuing a career as a soprano of note had one major flaw in her lack of singing ability but with a family legacy able to pay enough yesmen to shield her from any negative reaction and the force of her good nature, a striking journey was established. And in Quilter’s play, it a journey we witness through the eyes of her new pianist Cosmé McMoon, taken on to accompany Foster Jenkins at her 1944 concert at none other than Carnegie Hall.
Glorious! is a play that finds all sorts of easy laughs in the sheer comic improbability of this woman’s chutzpah, her focus and determination that this is her chosen path bulldozing any sense of reason. But Quilter rarely makes the more challenging step to dig a little deeper and question what was really going on – was it self-delusion or merely self-satisfaction, what was really going through his protagonist’s mind to keep her so firmly resolute.
What elevates the material is the sensitivities of actor Amanda Root’s astutely cast production. Gonet is fully alive to the broader comedy here but skilfully shows us the fully human side to the eccentricities on show, leaving the heavier lifting of the laughs to Ben Stock’s gurning McMoon with all his one-liners. Strong support too comes from Simon Shepherd and Matilda Ziegler and Neil Gordon’s set and impressive costumery made the most of this charming venue. Sometimes, the only way really is Essex.