Theatre review: Maurice’s Jubilee, Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33), Edinburgh

Maurice (Julian Glover) and Helena (Sheila Reid) in the superb Maurice's Jubilee by Nichola McAuliffe
Maurice (Julian Glover) and Helena (Sheila Reid) in the superb Maurice's Jubilee by Nichola McAuliffe
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MAURICE is 89 and has eight brain tumours. With just weeks to live, he and wife Helena are joined at their South London bungalow by palliative care nurse Katie.

Maurice’s Jubilee

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)

Star rating: * * * * *

Maurice’s dream is to live long enough to welcome the Queen to tea on her Diamond Jubilee. She said she’d come that night he spent with her, 60 years ago. Helena, devoted despite decades of playing second fiddle to what she believes to be a forlorn dream, doesn’t wish to burst his bubble, but sees crushing disappointment ahead. Katie, meanwhile, wants to see Maurice make up with his estranged son before it’s too late…

Such is the set-up for Nichola McAuliffe’s new play, in which she stars as Katie, who despite – or perhaps because of – never having found love herself, understands how precious it is. Julian Glover essays retired jeweller Maurice, to whom only two things are truly precious – a well-cut stone and his memory of Princess Elizabeth the night before she ascended to the throne. Sheila Reid’s Helena tends to deny the less-pleasant things in life, whether it’s her own advancing age or Maurice’s impending death.

There are no outstanding performances in this play… because all three actors are equally superb. It takes just a few beautifully observed and delivered lines to transport the audience from a converted university gym to a suburban living room. Glover, McAuliffe and Reid cast their spell early and well, bringing us a play for today examining what it means to dream and to love.

Glover’s Maurice is strong enough to battle his illness, but a slave to a dream. You may hate that he’s made his wife feel second best, but it’s difficult to dislike a man who owns up to his mistakes with wit and warmth. And while Helena is birdlike, and slightly scatty, Reid shows the steel within. McAuliffe’s Katie, meanwhile, has her sorrows to sow, but finds joy in giving, and giving large.

McAuliffe’s comedy drama balances laughs and poignancy, reminding us that whether queen or commoner, we all have moments to treasure, and things to regret. Five-time Fringe First winner Hannah Eidinow directs with an assured hand. The quality of production and players means Maurice’s Jubilee is wonderfully relaxing to watch, but it never takes the audience’s attention for granted; there’s always a little surprise, whether it’s an unexpected line of dialogue or bit of character-defining business. A timely take on timeless themes, Maurice’s Jubilee is a triumph,

• Until 27 August. Today 4:25pm.