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Sliding Scales at Kew: Glorious!

by on 25 November 2016


by Peter Quilter

Q2 Players at The Alexandra Room, The Avenue, Kew  until 26th November

Review by Mary Stoakes

Some new lighting and a very special set design with a multitude of floral arrangements transformed the somewhat unpromising surroundings of the Alexandra Hall in Kew into a New York Hotel suite, a pets’ cemetery and even Carnegie Hall for Q2’s production of Glorious.

Lavish costumes, gloriously in period, were from the collections of designers Junis Olmscheid and Susan Gerlach.     The  excellent hair styling and makeup were  equally glorious and period-perfect:  all down to the magical and very professional skills of Olmscheid, who also designed the set and arranged the props.  The sound design and choice of music by Felicity Morgan was well judged with the interludes of ‘real’ singers contrasting well with Florence’s efforts.  The synchronisation of the piano ‘accompaniment’ and the use of the gramophone were excellent.   A word of appreciation must also be given to the programme designer and photographer for the striking and eye-catching cover.

This comedy relates the history of American socialite, thwarted opera singer and heiress, Florence Foster Jenkins, ‘the worst soprano in the world’. She was famed for her flamboyant costumes and extravagant settings for her recitals which she began after the death of her father left her with sufficient money to fund her ambitions.   Her voice was consistently flat and had what one critic at the time described as a sliding scale of intonation.   For whatever reason, she became a cult figure in New York in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s and audiences flocked to see her performances.  She died suddenly in New York a few days after she had given her most famous recital at Carnegie Hall when she was in her 70s.

Felicity Morgan was well cast as Florence, although perhaps a little young for the part as the action takes place towards the end of her career.   It is very difficult for a good singer such as Felicity to sing badly but she succeeded hilariously in bringing Florence and her ‘art’ to the audience.  Particularly successful was a Spanish flower song, in which she danced, sang and distributed a basketful of blooms to the audience.  Her final Mozart aria was a triumph of poor singing when, dressed somewhat improbably as an angel, she attempted the top fs in the Queen of the Night’s outpouring together with some very well timed gestures.  Felicity sustained her American accent well throughout and believably succeeded in portraying the charm, determination, self-delusion and self-confidence of the character.

Florence Foster Jenkins (8 of 62).jpg

Photograph by Connor Ballard-Pateman

Making his English debut in this production, Ian Kinane played the part of her last, long suffering accompanist.   Shy and horrified at first, he subsequently comes to support and indeed love her and his feelings were movingly expressed in his final monologue.  With lovely character development shown throughout the action and some excellent mime at the piano, Ian promises to be great addition to Q2’s team.

The pace at the beginning of the first act could have been sharper and the performers could have reached out more to the audience, who failed to respond to many of the jokes in the witty script.  One recognises that the background and characters have to be established but this opening was overly static.   However it was enlivened by the presence of the incomprehensible and truculent Mexican maid (Lillian Hull).   Few of the audience were able to comment on the quality of her Spanish but it sounded extremely impressive and her acting provided some fine comic moments in both acts.

In the supporting roles, Dominic Parford played the part of the out of work English actor who was Florence’s lover and companion confidently with just the right amount of rakishness and cynicism.  Both Laurie Coombs, as Florence’s fussy,  dog-loving and caring friend Dorothy, and Fran Billington (Mrs Verrinder-Gedge, one of her sternest and most vocal critics), could been more amusing  if they had played their parts more broadly as American ladies of a certain age and social standing.    Both came across as quintessentially English, any traces of an American accent disappeared after a few lines and a potentially rich vein of satire and caricature was unexploited.

The director, designer, cast and crew must be congratulated in putting on so successfully this unusual and demanding play, which was thoroughly enjoyed by an appreciative audience.

 Mary Stoakes

November 2016



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