BWW Review: THE LIFE I LEAD, Wyndham's Theatre
Miles Jupp thrives in this thoughtful and funny look at the life, times and career of British actor David Tomlinson, who died in 2000 aged 83 and was most famous for playing Mr Banks in the 1964 classic Mary Poppins.
As we learn in this breezy one-hour-50-minute, one-man show, Tomlinson lived a life beyond the screen that spanned World War I service with the RAF, a tragic first marriage and some uniquely British foibles.
The first part, after a slightly awkward and stilted start, meanders whimsically through those highs and lows of his life, his sons and some notable career milestones, but after the interval we accelerate into an unflinching deconstruction of a most complex father-son relationship that becomes a generational tale of repression, responsibility and ultimately love. This is, of course, in the context of a bygone era that is brought to life with well-judged nostalgia.
As lead writer on Radio 4's News Quiz, Simon Kettle's pin-sharp script and well-judged jokes are not a surprise, nor - as host of that show - is it a shock that Jupp seems to flourish with the material given. Briefly, he adopts stand-up mode before recalling a particularly detailed anecdote and finally entering into all-out acting with a flourish.
Watching Jupp is a joy as he explores every crack and crevice of Tomlinson's psyche.
He's remarkable as Tomlinson, but also clearly takes great joy in briefly inhabiting other characters; his face contorts and his posture twists to accommodate everyone from Walt Disney to Tomlinson's own father and countless other cameos along the way.
Jupp relishes the highs and lows of this journey, his carefully measured inflections drawing fits of laughter one second and dead silence the next. That is the most fascinating part of this story: the rapier-sharp humour and caustic optimism of Tomlinson that covers the cracks of turbulent and at times traumatic existence during a rather buttoned-up time of British life.
Following runs at Bath Theatre Royal and Cambridge Arts Theatre - after starting out at Park Theatre earlier this year - The Life I Lead fits perfectly at a venue steeped in as much history as Wyndham's.
The lighting at times appears to try a little too hard to emphasise the onstage action, but Lee Newby's set - replete with Mr Banks' cut-out silhouette in the door - is pitched perfectly and allows Jupp the ideal canvass to express himself, a reflection of the complex yet striking man at the heart of the show.
Image: Piers Foley