Say It With Flowers
17th May 2013
Dorothy Squires is undoubtedly one of the most successful singers and biggest personalities to come from Wales. Her tale of rags to riches – to rags again is enthralling and was never far from the pages of tabloid newspapers. Sherman Cymru have teamed up with writers Meic Povey and lifelong friend of Dorothy, Johnny Tudor to create a fitting tribute to the amazing life and career of a Welsh legend.
Say It With Flowers is an embellished biography of Dot’s rise from a singer in social clubs in Llanelli to a worldwide star. It begins near the end, having lost or wasted most of her money Old Dot (played by another Welsh great Ruth Madoc) is waiting at the train station to meet a dedicated fan who has offered Dot a place to stay.
Lynn Hunter is fantastic as Maisie, the kind-hearted and generous fan who lets Dorothy stay with her in her small and badly decorated 90’s home. These two bounce off each other brilliantly and offer most of the laughs throughout the show. Their brief friendship is genuine and really shows the softer side of a woman known to be waspish, argumentative and sometimes cruel. The suggestion of naive and well meaning Maisie finding amphetamines to fuel Dorothy’s addiction is both hilarious and tragic.
|Ruth Madoc as 'Old Dot'. Photo thanks to Toby Farrow|
During her time at Maisie’s home it becomes clear that Dorothy is very unwell and through a series of flashbacks the highs and lows of her career and personal life are touchingly explored to help us see how she has become the way she is now. The stand out performance of the night came from Gillian Kirkpatrick as Young Dot. Her fiery temperament, powerful voice and particular gestures were spot on and some of her vocal performances were indistinguishable from videos of the real Dorothy Squires performing.
Dorothy’s humble beginnings, singing with brother Freddie (Aled Pedrick), give a real sense of her undying ambition and the support she had from her family despite the fact that she shunned them, firing her own brother and refusing to attend her father’s funeral. Matt Nalton also gives a good, if brief, performance as Dorothy’s second husband, the then unknown Roger Moore. The tempestuousness and violent passion of their romance was caught brilliantly but left little room to explore her other big romance with collaborator Billy Reid or her series of court battles with journalists and newspapers.
Heledd Gywnn was a late addition to the show as Dorothy’s niece who lived with her for a brief time before they became estranged when Emily challenged Dorothy’s attitude towards family. A clearly talented actress but again she was given too little to work with and later scenes between her and Dorothy were unnecessary – we already understood she was a symbol of hope for the dying old lady to have some peace at last.
It’s hard to criticize something that was without a doubt fun and certainly had me smiling but the odd staging and sometimes hackneyed lines stopped this show reaching its full potential. The stage was split down the middle between Maisie’s horrific 1990’s home and an odd, black, bare box that was used for all the flashback scenes. Dealing with multiple times zones is always going to be a challenge onstage but considering most of the action took place in these areas they were very cramped and action often spilled over into the orchestra pit which was completely out of some audience members’ sightlines.
|Gillian Kirkpatrick as 'Young Dot'. Photo thanks to Toby Farrow.|
The reason for these areas being so far downstage became apparent towards the end when a fantastic and beautifully choreographed scene change transformed the stage into a dramatic and surreal hospital room where Old Dot spends her last few days waiting to hear from the love of her life, Roger Moore. Although this was the most impressive moment of technical theatre in the production it did not quite make up for the previous squashed feeling and came too late.
Another oddity was the frequent swearing, especially a certain four letter word beginning with ‘C’. Normally if an older actress swears onstage it is a moment of shock but as it kept popping up it lost all power and became stale. The real Dorothy Squires was known for her lapses in manners and occasional swearing but it became very old, very fast.
It’s such a shame that confused staging and a sometimes poor script let down such an incredible cast. Each of them gave convincing and touching performances and the quality of singing was flawless. All the raw material was there; a great story, a great personality, a great cast; but somehow it didn’t all click into place.
Say It With Flowers is certainly worth watching and is undeniably entertaining. With a few tweaks it could be a heartbreaking tale of a woman’s descent into old-age ill-health from the very heights of stardom.
Author's note: I apologise for the delay in getting this review online. To say sorry here's a little video of the real Dorothy I found on Youtube which is sure to make you smile.