Manchester theatre: The Queen who came to tea

Kevin Bourke

Theatre in Manchester starts the New Year with Maurice’s Jubilee, a sell-out play featuring a love triangle that’s old enough to know better

Following a sell-out run at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival, Nichola McAuliffe’s play Maurice’s Jubilee opens a national tour at Manchester Opera House in January.

The award-winning actress not only wrote the play but reprises her role as Katie, alongside Julian Glover as Maurice. Its central character, Maurice, is determined to reach his 90th birthday, which is the day before the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, not least as he firmly believes that the Queen herself, having promised to do so 60 years before, is coming to tea. His wife is just as convinced he’s never met the Queen. But Katie, his nurse, thinks it’s time he did.

Although she might be best-known as obstreperous surgeon Sheila Sabatini in ITV sitcom Surgical Spirit, or for her award-winning musical theatre roles in the likes of Kiss Me Kate, Nichola McAuliffe also enjoys a successful parallel writing career. She has two novels, The Crime Tsar (very loosely based on Macbeth) and the marvellously-titled comic novel A Fanny Full of Soap to her name, plus the children’s story Attila, Loolagax and the Eagle, as well as the internationally-successful play A British Subject. That was, she says, “virtually a documentary” inspired by her efforts, along with her crime reporter husband, to save the life of a British man on death row in Pakistan.

We couldn’t have been more cutting edge if we’d eviscerated a chicken then had anal sex

The inspiration for Maurice’s Jubilee was very different. “It’s a love triangle but it’s not set in the throes of young love, as these things usually are, but in the third act of a life,” she says. “In a play or a film you expect the climax to be in the third act, yet in life as it relates to love we seem to think the climax of the story should be at the beginning.

“Maurice is a man who feels as if his life has been a failure when it hasn’t. It simply hasn’t lived up to his hopes and dreams. Some people are shocked to discover that there seems to be no reward for simply doing the decent thing all your life,” she says. “His wife meanwhile is dissatisfied because she’s chasing a dream of ‘her’ Maurice, and all three characters, including the nurse I play, are up against a time limit. Then you have their relationship with the Queen, whether it’s real or imagined. None of us really know her, she’s an idea we have, a blank canvas for us all to project onto.

“The idea initially came to me as my husband and I were driving back from his mother’s funeral in Edinburgh. She was quite elderly yet she was fit as a flea and she could live her life perfectly well. But she was diagnosed with cancer and was dead two weeks later.

“I have to admit that I only do what I want to do and knew at once that this was a play, not a book, and I needed to write it straightaway. But there was no notion of it even being staged at Edinburgh, let alone being so successful there that the Ambassador Theatre Group would want to take it out on a ten-venue tour of the country.

“A love story with older people? We couldn’t have been more cutting edge if we’d come out and eviscerated a live chicken then had anal sex.”

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