Review: Novello & Son
Ivor Novello's mother is brilliantly captured in stage show
Mike Smith, Wales Online
Thanks to his stage name, many people in Cardiff still don’t know David Ivor Novello Davies was a son of the city.
That his mother Clara was an international famous singer and socialite well before her son’s rise to international stardom is even less known.
This excellent show – Novello & Son staged in the Weston Studio at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff – was written by Arnold Evans and does not claim to be the gospel truth about Clara Novello Davies.
But the portrayal of the increasingly bitter, rather resentful mother of a son whose star completely eclipsed her own rings true.
Rosamund Shelley is superb as the driven, talented, egocentric, bitchy, at times pompous and, ultimately, out of her depth product of a musical Welsh Methodist family. A family who left her with a sense of guilt and inferiority that probably fuelled her social climbing and ambitions for her son.
The story follows her own attempts to gain the approval of her strict father and musical success, a success which left her surviving child Ivor, being cared for in Gloucester and whom she met in brief encounters at railway stations.
The one-hour show concludes with the tables being turned when wildly adored Ivor doesn’t have the time, or inclination, to be with his by now clearly clinging, spend thrift and aging mother.
Directed by Pip Broughton and cleverly lit by Ceri James, Shelley is dressed in a costume created by Deryn Tudor straight from the portrait of Clara by Margaret Lindsay Williams that hangs in the National Museum of Wales.
My family’s own encounters with Madam Clara came when my partner’s great great grandfather (another upright Methodist) was entertained by the doyen of musical society when inaugurated a Mayor of Cardiff in 1898, such was her star status.
His equally haughty portrait hangs not too far from Clara in the city’s Mansion House.
The only props are a table and candle with much of the drama carried out as a monologue to the audience and a witty section where she is conducting the women in the audience as members of her famous ladies choir.
Accompanied by Christopher Littlewood on the piano who at times took Ivor’s place in mother and son interactions, the show is full of music and song, demonstrating his skills at the keyboard and Shelley’s fine voice as well as acting skills.