The Diary of a Nobody
King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 2nd November 2017
“There is a raw Python-esque quality – with an infectious sense of fun”
Everybody has heard of, if not actually read, the Victorian comic novel, “The Diary of a Nobody”. Like many a classic that has stood the test of time it was a slow burner, but managed to transcend its initial tepid reception, eventually being heralded by Evelyn Waugh as “the funniest book in the world”. Such an accolade is debatable, yet, along with the seemingly pedestrian subject matter of the novel, it is a brave choice to adapt it for the stage in the twenty-first century. ‘Rough Haired Pointer’ admirably pulls this off with this second outing of the piece at the King’s Head Theatre. What the inventive theatre company does extraordinarily well is retain the essence of the novel and its period, while seamlessly shaping it with their own personalities. The resulting mix of self-deprecation and irreverence yields a rich contemporary feel; a kind of satire of a satire.
The diaries centre around the fictional author, Charles Pooter, a man of modest ambitions, content with his humdrum life. Yet he is constantly troubled by disagreeable tradesmen, impertinent young office clerks and wayward friends, not to mention his devil-may-care son Lupin with his unsuitable choice of bride. Jake Curran captures the bumbling, absurd, yet ultimately endearing character of Pooter perfectly. Pages of the original text are condensed into a ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ facial expression or a perfectly timed pause, conveying the underlying astonishment at his own banality.
Mary Franklin, who directs, clearly has an eye for casting. All four of the all-male troupe are excellent in their roles, often taking on multiple personalities. Interestingly, this idea was accidental: the loss of the sole actress due to an emergency after the opening night left the original production with an all-male cast performing all the characters. I don’t know if these four actors were in the original show, but onstage they betray a longstanding camaraderie that is a joy to watch. There is a raw Python-esque quality – with an infectious sense of fun. Jordan Mallory-Skinner plays Pooter’s long-suffering wife with a deadpan quality that illustrates her irritation to her husband to great effect, there is a touch of the young Michael Palin about Loz Keystone’s Lupin and Geordie Wright’s versatility is a roller coaster ride of multiple roles.
Christopher Hone’s ingenious design is almost like a fifth character in the show. Based on the original black and white illustrations from the diaries, the set and costume add surrealism to the action, giving license for the cast to drift into the realms of cartoon, sometimes becoming part of the set themselves, and sometimes stepping out of the set to break the fourth wall.
Like the set, the show does have the overall feel of a sketch however. This is perhaps my only reservation, in that it could benefit from being condensed. But it is a very minor quibble. What sets this show apart from many contemporary comedies is the self-effacing knowledge that it is all just play acting, and the performers embrace this with a great spirit of mischief. They are clearly having a ball. And so are the audience.
Despite being spun just a little too thin, this show is pure gold.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
DIARY OF A NOBODY
is at The King’s Head Theatre until 18th November