BWW Review: JEEPERS CREEPERS THROUGH THE EYES OF MARTY FELDMAN, Leicester Square Theatre Lounge, January 28 2016
Jeepers Creepers (at the Leicester Square Theatre Lounge until 20 February) starts with one of the great sight gags in cinema history before the action - well, the talking - moves to Marty Feldman's LA home where he's having one of those late night conversations with his wife, Lauretta, about how they've got there and where they're going. It's something many fortysomethings do, but, him being Marty, there's always a little joke coming, something that infuriates and amuses Lauretta in equal measure.
If that's the first half, the second is somewhat grim - success has duly arrived, and with it the booze, the women and the lack of creative discipline that was to see Marty to an early grave aged just 48. Lauretta (even Marty too) see it coming, but appear powerless to affect the outcome, as Marty rails against studio executives, the Californian lifestyle, even American idioms like "garbage" and "soccer". He seems oblivious to the fact that he actually chose to live there and could, at any time, have returned to England to drink warm ale and watch Chelsea.
The sad clown is a cliché because it's so often true, and it's the sadness that overwhelms the clowning in Robert Ross's very wordy two-hander (it's Ross's first venture into writing plays after many successful books about British comedy - and, at times, this lack of experience shows). David Boyle can't do the infamous eyes (who can?) but he gets some of Marty's gentle speech, his graceful movement and his winning charm, while Rebecca Vaughan does exasperation leavened by love rather well and gets to wear some beautiful hippy chick outfits.
What the play lacks is Marty's manic energy, the fuel for his comedy. Everything is a little passive, too insular and, most of all, not funny enough to drive nearly two hours of drama. There's a good tight 60 minutes all-through play in here (probably best suited to radio) or perhaps a much bigger production with clips and set-pieces that give some context to Marty's admiration of Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel and Harpo Marx. More than most productions, it really pays to find a few of Marty's sketches or film clips on YouTube the night before you see this play - because Marty was both funny and unique, something that doesn't come across in this well-meaning, but ultimately unsuccessful, window on his life.