Tag Archives: Didi Hopkins

The Life I Lead

★★★★

Wyndham’s Theatre

The Life I Lead

The Life I Lead

Wyndham’s Theatre

Reviewed – 18th September 2019

★★★★

 

“manages to combine laugh-out-loud dry asides with moments of remarkable honesty and sweetness”

 

‘What is it and when does it start?’ We at first meet Miles Jupp as actor David Tomlinson as if by accident, as he appears awkwardly trying to leave the stage and apologising for the disruption with typically English deference. In a meta twist which never feels strained or tedious, we’re watching a comic actor play a comic actor reflecting on his life – a life that has lots to teach us about fatherhood, identity and ultimately resilience and love.

Tomlinson is best known as that most English and famous of cinematic fathers, Mr Banks, in the 1964 childhood staple Mary Poppins. The shape of Mr Banks in negative, a silhouette cut out of a door, and tumbling bowler hats are on stage throughout The Life I Lead (also Mr Banks’ signature song) – reminders of a character always present.

In fact, Englishness is shot through James Kettle’s charming script, with plenty of self-deprecating humour and grappling with emotional closeness – and who could pull this off better than that most English of comics, Miles Jupp? The piece, written for Jupp, manages to combine laugh-out-loud dry asides with moments of remarkable honesty and sweetness.

Direction, from Selina Cadell and Didi Hopkins, feels confident, always working in service to Kettle’s writing. The quality script is the star here, with Jupp magnificently animating the cast of characters that populated Tomlinson’s fascinating life. A courtroom set piece where we see Jupp flash between a hoary old judge, an orating lawyer and Tomlinson himself is so remarkable as to receive spontaneous applause.

Lee Newby’s set is simple, invoking a dream-like drawing room which might be a kind of heaven. Certainly Tomlinson tells us that drawing rooms are his sanctuary, querying with the dry wit that characterises the night whether it was worth fighting the Second World War only to lose drawing rooms, and laments his sons’ choices of ‘lounges’ instead. The floor, ceiling and walls are dappled with the shapes of passing clouds, and this is apt; the production reflects deeply on flight and on falls.

Jupp is by turns hilarious and reflective as we hear about Tomlinson’s life and his experiences (so often airborne, like Mary Poppins herself), from the RAF to the plane crash later in life that saw him in court. And we hear about falls of a different kind, including the tragic suicide of Tomlinson’s first wife and his own father’s staggering fall from grace.

Most touchingly, we also explore parenting. We see a father who struggles and one who succeeds, and – like Mr Banks himself – we ultimately see redemption. This is a night with a touch of magic; Mary Poppins would approve.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Piers Foley

 

The Life I Lead

The Life I Lead

Wyndham’s Theatre until 21st September

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Red | ★★★★★ | May 2018

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Life I Lead
★★★

Park Theatre

The Life I Lead

The Life I Lead

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 19th March 2019

★★★

 

“there is no denying the appeal of Jupp’s charismatic performance”

 

“Are you here for me?”, asks David Tomlinson, as he realises he has stumbled onto the stage instead of the comforts of his own drawing room, “Or am I here for you?” Slightly taken aback by the fact that an audience has made the effort to come and hear what he has to say, Tomlinson is nevertheless relaxed and welcoming. Or rather Miles Jupp is; the actor, comedian and writer portraying the late actor with a well measured mix of Tomlinson’s, very British, self-deprecation and awareness of his popularity and significance.

Tomlinson was one of those actors whose stage and film career was prolific (clocking up over fifty big-screen appearances) but is chiefly remembered for one defining role. With a pastel set resembling a cartoon backdrop from “Mary Poppins” we are reminded of the fact that it never concerned him being branded as the go-to actor to play, in his own words, “my dim-witted upper-class twit performances”. Coming quite late in his career, ‘Mr Banks’ ensured his place in movie history as a family favourite.

The importance of family is not lost on “The Life I Lead” writer, James Kettle. His script focuses on the family that surrounds Tomlinson, and mainly his father and his son. While we may not gain much insight into the actor (most references come in the form of amusing, throwaway anecdotes) we are taken to the heart of the man and begin to understand why he retired, aged just sixty-three, to spend time with his own family.

“I stopped taking jobs before people stopped offering” was Tomlinson’s argument, but Miles Jupp’s candid performance convinces us that there were some demons lurking just beneath Tomlinson’s polished façade. Haunted by memories bequeathed him by his own father he makes it his business to be very careful with other people’s memories. Jupp avoids sentimentality though, replacing it with a matter of fact delivery that, again in that very English way, makes light of an inner sadness. His discovery of his austere, unemotional father’s double life; his first wife’s suicide, his own son’s autism.

There is no chronological sequence to the monologues, but we always know where we are in his life – and in his mind – as the cool lighting shifts from the confessional moments to the bright lights of the Hollywood highlights; where the humour and comic timing come to the fore again with some finely pitched Disney anecdotes. It is this balance of light and shade that save the evening from being overly long. For, while being an absorbing and accomplished rendition of a life, it feels it sometimes overestimates the appeal of the material. However, there is no denying the appeal of Jupp’s charismatic performance.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Piers Foley

 


The Life I Lead

Park Theatre until 30th March

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Dangerous Giant Animals | ★★★ | October 2018
Honour | ★★★ | October 2018
A Pupil | ★★★★ | November 2018
Dialektikon | ★★★½ | December 2018
Peter Pan | ★★★★ | December 2018
Rosenbaum’s Rescue | ★★★★★ | January 2019
The Dame | ★★★★ | January 2019
Gently Down The Stream | ★★★★★ | February 2019
My Dad’s Gap Year | ★★½ | February 2019
We’re Staying Right Here | ★★★★ | March 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com