Jubilee is a 1930s Cole Porter musical about a fictional royal family who escape the pressures of stately life in order to meet their celebrity inspirations, who encourage them to pursue their passions. Julia Hillman’s production at the Tabard Theatre is a fun-loving satire, with a humourous blend of American and British past times. Despite a few dry performances, Jubilee’s overall comical tone is rather intoxicating.
The play opens with an endearing medley montage of the characters singing and dancing in twosomes that develop later on in the show. Subsequently, we are introduced to the royal family, King Henry (Robert Paul), Queen Catherine (Amy Cooke-Hodgson), Prince James (Charlie Guest) and Princess Diana (Alana Asher) who all seem terribly bored. When the family is threatened by a rock thrown through the window with a note attached, they are sent to their summer home in Feathermore. However, before reaching their destination, each royal decides to take the opportunity to disappear from the spotlight and pursue their own interests. For King Henry, it’s becoming a magician, for Queen Catherine it’s meeting the famous American actor and swimmer Charles ‘Mowgli’ Rausmiller (Herman Gambhir). Princess Diana pursues the playwright Eric Dare (Jonathan Leinmuller) and Prince James goes to meet the burlesque dancer Karen O’ Kane (Emma ‘Scarlett Belle’ Williamson). While practicing his coveted string trick in the park, Henry meets popular socialite Eva Standing (Kathleen Culler) who decides to make him the centrepiece for her latest party. Each royal is happily paired with a celebrity counterpart when they are re-discovered at Standing’s masqued ball by the Lord Wyndham (Chris Dobson), who advises them to come back to the palace. Once there, Queen Catherine is able to convince her husband to abdicate the throne so the family can go back to enjoying a life without duty on Rockwell Beach. The fantasy continues until the family realize the threat was a hoax and return to their royal duties, but with their new friends alongside them.
The mischievous and raucous fun of the royals paired with their celebrities creates a comic evening full of parodies and name-dropping - alluding to New York in the 1930s. Pounds are exchanged for dollars; Central Park, Macy’s, and Radio City Hall are what the Queen is dying to see; and the art of celebrity is just underway. The script is well supported with charming short numbers and excellent choreography relevant to the times. Cooke-Hodgson’s Queen steals the show in this production: her hilarious asides and fascination with Mowgli, her perfectly raised eyebrows and fascination with swimming keeps the audience well entertained. Leinmuller’s Eric Dare (who could be a young Dustin Hoffman look-alike) is a close second, with his swarmy interpretation of an artist based off of Noel Coward who woos Princess Diana with lines from his own plays, which she cleverly recognizes. Gambhir’s Mowgli, clad only in a loin-cloth, is half-naked through the entire show, exposing his muscular physique (to the Queen’s elation), while perfecting a 1930s Hollywood accent. The Queen/Mowgli and Princess/Dare pairs were the strongest in the cast. I found Culler’s interpretation of a socialite way too over the top, and Williamson’s Karen O’ Kane too stiff. The supporting cast was brilliant and I especially loved the men’s flamboyantly fond attraction to Eric Dare as well as their swim number ‘There’s Nothing Like Swimming’ with the Queen.
There were some obvious oversights (mostly unrealistic props that took me out of the moment) and many blackouts to move lots of furniture, which seemed unnecessary. In fact, the set was rather disappointing, with all black walls, lots of clutter and a floor that was atrociously painted to look like it was deteriorating. However, the cast used the space well, to the point where whole ensemble numbers were beautifully done, and the silliness that erupts from the script was definitely felt and enjoyed by the audience.
Since this is Jubilee’s European debut and with a history of having been lost for more than 60 years, it’s wonderful to see a 1930s musical attempting to make a comeback. It’s themes of celebrity culture and the controversial predicaments of royal life are still relevant issues. Additionally, Jubilee is another chance to hear Cole Porter’s great music and lyrics, with ‘The Kling-Kling Bird on the Divi-Divi tree’ and ‘Me & Marie’ as catchy jubilant numbers. Go see it at the Tabard this June.