Nobody embodied the concept of rags to riches better than Dorothy Squires. Born in a carnival caravan in Pontyberem near Llanelli, Squires packed in her job at the tin factory, and set out on the ultimate gold paved path to The Big Smoke. There, after years of tireless performances in the West End, she rose to unimaginable fame, and soon after became the highest paid singer in the UK. Although her story is most certainly rags to riches, it is also the perfect example of a rise and fall too. After numerous court cases, Squires found herself broke and back in Wales, housed by a devoted fan in the Rhondda valley Trebanog. From her marriage to Roger Moore to her dependency on amphetamines, Squires’ offstage life was perhaps more dramatic than her performances onstage, and so it was only a matter of time until her life became the focus of the contemporary stage.
The play, named after one of Dorothy’s songs, is a collaborative project between notable Welsh playwright Meic Povey and personal friend of Squires, the writer Johnny Tudor. The script provides a rather well-rounded representation of Squires’ life, but unfortunately it is peppered with numerous clichés and clumsy stumbles into past flashback scenes. The performance is divided into past and present, eventually coming together in a chaotic climax before Squires is carted off to hospital.
Ruth Madoc plays a stock-type celebrity, although she really begins to thrive during the more dramatic scenes in which Dorothy is falling apart, hallucinations driving her to near madness. Gillian Kirkpatrick is absolutely phenomenal as a younger Squires, not only a fantastic singer and performer, but a truly believable and impressive actress. Lynn Hunter as devoted fan Maisie provides the comic relief, with natural flair for comedy. The script is both funny and original in parts, but it is let down by endless Tory gags, somewhat easy for an assumedly left-wing audience. The frequent swearing, although provoking shocked, cathartic laughs from the audience, really is excessive; the over use of one specific word (beginning with c and rhyming with runt) becomes meaningless and lazy.
The smooth interweaving of music into the piece really gives the script a well-needed boost. Similarly, the odd Welsh language phrase creeps in, serving as a reminder of Dorothy’s rejection of her Welsh identity. This, being such an interesting and relevant theme, certainly could have been developed more. The stage is divided into two diagonal halves, one side a grotty 90’s valley living room, the other a completely black and underused space. The piece does contain a wonderfully creative scene change. Intruding on Dorothy when she is at her most vulnerable, paramedics and policemen come in and strip the walls bear in a frantic display representative of Dorothy’s confusion. The stage is then moved deeper, and is transformed into the clinical confines of a hospital.
Certain aspects of the script really pulled the story back into the harsh light of reality. The reveal of Dorothy’s catheter bag as she tries to seduce an imagined young Roger Moore is really quite poignant and upsetting, but it seems to be misinterpreted by the majority of the audience who laugh at its grotesqueness. This particular example seems to indicate that the script really could have taken the whole thing in another direction, but it never arrived there; the laughs just kept coming.
The story was certainly worthy of stage adaptation, but the script seemed confused somehow. The whole production needed to go that few steps further; more character development certainly would have improved this. It has to be said however that the audience certainly enjoyed the piece; a standing ovation signalled the general feeling of enjoyment. Singing performances were the strength of the production, and after all, that is arguably the main point of representation; Dorothy Squires was above all an iconic Welsh songstress.