sat 15/06/2024

The Life I Lead, Park Theatre review - pleasant enough but lacks bite | reviews, news & interviews

The Life I Lead, Park Theatre review - pleasant enough but lacks bite

The Life I Lead, Park Theatre review - pleasant enough but lacks bite

Solo play looks back blandly at the celebrated screen dad in 'Mary Poppins'

Being Mr Banks: Miles Jupp as David Tomlinson in 'The Life I Lead'Piers Foley

I am deeply jealous of Miles Jupp's dressing gown in The Life I Lead, the solo play at the Park Theatre. It's a silky-grey patterned number of exquisitely comfortable proportions, and just the sort of thing a chap should wear to tell the story of his life via some genial patter over an hour or two.

The story told, though, is not of Jupp but of David Tomlinson, the British actor who died in 2000 and was famous for playing upper-class fumblers, in particular Mr Banks, the irritable banker father whose life is changed forever by Mary Poppins. 

Like that dressing gown, the play comes with impeccable credentials, beginning with its author, James Kettle, the comedy writer who works with big-name talent and is currently lead writer on The News Quiz, which Jupp hosts. The director is Selina Cadell, a blue-chip actor and theatre director who is head of drama at the National Opera Studio. Then, of course, there is Jupp himself, whose radio and TV renown brought a strong contingent of the Radio 4 set to the north London venue one recent night. 

Miles Jupp as David Tomlinson in 'The Life I Lead'The result of this promising cocktail is certainly charming enough for those fans in attendance, but lacks bite. "Mr Banks. David Tomlinson, Miles Jupp. What do these three have in common?" Cadell asks in the programme for the show. The answer: "Manners. Smiles. Height. Being Dapper." But like Lee Newby's set   a Magritte-ish pale blue, with Mr Banks's signature bowler hat and umbrella and an oddly-holed door   what's on offer is all a little anodyne. 

There's a neat potted biography of David Tomlinson in the programme (written by a onetime colleague of mine, in fact). Born in 1917 and intent on being an actor despite his stammer, he worked his way from the amateur stage to be an understudy for Alec Guinness in The Merchant of Venice. After training pilots for the RAF in World War II, he was cast in the bomber drama The Way to the Stars, with John Mills and Stanley Holloway. Through about 30 film roles, he carved a popular niche with what he called my "dim-witted upper-class twit performances". Then Walt Disney came calling: Mary Poppins was followed by The Love Bug and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. "Let's Go Fly a Kite" was his theme tune. 

Between showbiz asides that take in reminiscences of John Gielgud or Peter Sellers, Kettle's play promises a reveal of the other side of Tomlinson's life: an horrific ending to a first marriage, a son with autism, a Victorian father with secrets of his own. But the genial narrative style fails to take these stories to the dark edge that's required; Jupp doesn't jump to other characters easily (as is often necessary in a solo play), and you're left wishing someone would join him on stage. So, pleasantly watchable without ever quite persuading us why we care.

The genial narrative style fails to take these stories to the dark edge that's required


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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