It was disillusion with the current cinema releases that led me, on a rare evening out, to my local theatre in Milford Haven to witness the telling of a story of lust, betrayal and glamour that characterised the life of 1940s Welsh singing star Dorothy Squires (in the Sherman Theatre’s touring production of ‘Say It With Flowers’ writes Sarah Hoss).
Famous as both a passionate singer – and the lover and first wife of the then unknown Roger Moore, the couple had a tempestuous relationship that seemed to define Dorothy as much as her extraordinary success from her birth in a caravan and work on a tin-plating factory in west Wales to curtain-calls at sellout shows at the London Palladium by way of Hollywood and a fabulously showbiz house in Bexley, Kent, where she first met Moore.
‘Say it with Flowers’ (referring to one of her huge hits) is a play with music – the creation of Meic Povey and Jonny Tudor. Tuder was a close friend and fan of the star and has also enjoyed a long career on the stage.
This personal connection didn’t stop the writers from including some harrrowing and gritty realism to the play – including a ghastly ‘casting couch’ scene and Squires’ legandary purple prose – along with some of her show-stopping hits.
The action takes place in a scruffy sitting room in the valleys where Squires is shown spending the last few years of her life. The rags to riches to rags tale is endearing and heart-breaking as the now ill and dying Squires (played with great authenticity by Welsh star Ruth Madoc who for my money played this serious role with true grit) conjures up the ghosts of her past as she becomes confused and house-bound due to her underlying medical condition. Not an easy role to play and for me a little too sombre, Madoc nevertherless portrayed movingly the bitterness and pain of a woman who acheived so much at great personal cost. Ruth broke into song – not an easy task faced with the stellar Gillian Kirkpatrick – but she still nailed it. Respect.
Her pursuit of song versus family; success versus motherhood; lust and litigation versus security and contentment; Squires’ various court run-ins, partying and the heartbreak of losing the love of her life – after she’d helped him achieve success – showed highs and lows of epic proportions.
I’d love to have seen Madoc and her wonderful side-kick Maisie – played by Jill Hunter – having a drink and a laugh over the ‘bad old days’ to break the sadness of the Squires’ senior perspective – but the highlights were all taking place on the opposite side of the stage where the young, vibrant, bad-tempered, glittering young Squires – (played by Scottish actress Gillian Kirkpatrick) in a series of flashbacks of key moments in Squire’s career provided the main contrast in the show.
I found Kirkpatrick’s performance utterly mesmeric – she wore the glitzy gowns with absolute poise and sang beautifully with a rich and honest emotion. Squires was such a charismatic lady for all her swearing and shouting and I felt that magnetism in this show. Magic.
More of the hits and less of the heartbreak would have created a better balance for me, but I still found myself utterly transfixed and left me thinking about this extraordinary west Walian star who had success both as young glamorous singer and also decades later when she successfully staged a comeback.
Contrasting the young heady days with the sadness of illness and lonely old-age was a logical method of recounting the Squires’ story – along with a split stage and some really clever scenery changes by the key players as they performed, but that method highlighted too extremely the rise and fall of this particular talent.
Not a jolly good night, but for this theatre-goer a moving performance that confirmed my decision to always, whenever the chance arises, support my local theatre. Say it with tickets.