Tag Archives: James Hillier



The Coach and Horses

JEFFREY BERNARD IS UNWELL at The Coach and Horses, Soho


“Bathurst’s performance is a tour de force, capturing the pure essence of the wayward, accidental hero”

Jeffrey Bernard was a prolific writer. He was a prolific talker, drinker, gambler and womaniser too. But despite arriving each morning at the Coach and Horses pub in Soho, grey-faced and trembling, waiting for the doors to open, he managed to keep up (mostly) his contributions to the Spectator; his weekly “Low Life” columns eventually reaching four figures. Publishers naturally hovered with lucrative offers for his autobiography. When Faber dangled the juiciest carrot, Bernard placed an advert in The Spectator asking if any of its readers ‘could tell me what I was doing between 1960 to 1974?’. He never took the plunge, however, although he did write a spoof obituary of himself which epitomised the acute, self-deprecatory wit found in his columns.

Using the text from the Spectator “Low Life” columns, Keith Waterhouse’s play “Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell” opened in 1989 triumphantly starring Bernard’s friend and drinking companion Peter O’Toole. The Coach and Horses could well have been the rehearsal room. It is fitting, and also a masterstroke of theatricality, to stage a revival in the very pub where Bernard would prop up the bar by day, and by night.

Like the writing, the Coach and Horses on Greek Street conveys a bygone era. Photos on the walls commemorate the late and the great Bernard, cigarettes pile up in ashtrays and Double Diamond is advertised above the bar. Into the crowded room, Robert Bathurst’s Jeffrey Bernard comes crashing through the bar at five in the morning, having fallen asleep in the gents at closing time the previous night. Half-heartedly trying to get hold of the landlord to come and unlock the doors for him, he spends the next hour alternating between the vodka optic and regaling us with hilarious anecdotes. As he paces the bar, the prose trips off his tongue in flourishes of searing wit. Bathurst’s performance is a tour de force, capturing the pure essence of the wayward, accidental hero.

“Bathurst delivers the stories with brilliant insight”

The play’s title is lifted from the heading frequently used by the Spectator magazine to explain the absence of any writing; a euphemism of course. The context is rigidly set in a Soho that no longer exists and may lay itself open to accusations of being dated or insensitive to modern morals. We know what our protagonist would make of that and thankfully we would all still salute him. Even stand him a drink – if he wasn’t continually helping himself already.

James Hillier’s staging significantly cuts back the original text, but seemingly doesn’t cheat on the sharp-witted punchlines that accentuate each anecdote. Bernard had no qualms about making himself the target of his verbal attacks. He knew what he was, so there is no room for judgement nor shame, and absolutely no space for self-pity. Bathurst is well aware of the setting, and this honesty comes through unfiltered – the master raconteur that he is. He easily draws us into the world peopled by drunks, layabouts, criminals but also the likes of Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud. Never sentimental, it is a love-letter – even a eulogy – to a bohemian Soho. A Soho that was dying at the same rate as Bernard himself in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

Aged fourteen, he made his first visit to Soho in 1946, and from that point he “never looked forward”. The life he led had perhaps fewer highs than lows, but it was, in his own words, “full of adventure and excess, and I wouldn’t change a single thing.” Bathurst delivers the stories with brilliant insight. We see the cragginess of a loveable rogue and laugh out loud. But we also glimpse the fallout. A short scene in Bernard’s hospital bed is surreally moving, as it resounds with metaphors, as though we are at the “bedside of a dying Soho, holding its hand wondering whether it is kinder to switch off the life support”.

The Coach and Horses has survived a corporate takeover in recent years and still retains its character. It is the perfect setting for this revival of the play, and with Bathurst as the host everyone is going to want to be a regular at the bar. So, get your round in quick.

JEFFREY BERNARD IS UNWELL at the  Coach and Horses, Soho

Reviewed on 5th February 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Tom Howard




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By Sam Shepard


4 – 28 May | Southwark Playhouse (The Large)


With their critically acclaimed production of Stephen Karam’s Speech & Debate running at the Trafalgar Studios, Defibrillator Artistic Director James Hillier today announces the full casting for their production of Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind. Joining the previously announced Gethin Anthony (Jake), Kate Fahy (Lorraine), Robert Lonsdale (Mike), Laura Rogers (Sally) and John Stahl (Baylor) are Nancy Crane (Meg), Alexandra Dowling (Beth) and Michael Fox (Frankie) in a new updated version by Sam Shepard as yet to be seen in the UK. The production opens at Southwark Playhouse on 8 May, with previews from 4 May, running until 28 May.

“Love… it’s a disease that makes ya’ feel good. While it lasts. Then, when it’s gone, yer worse off than before you caught it.”

America. The great wide open. Two families torn apart by more than one brutal marriage. Out of this bleak landscape emerges a human spirit that burns bright. At heart a love story, this poetic and gritty play explores the ambivalence of family relationships, of love lost and found, against the backdrop of a macho American West.

Defibrillator’s production will feature a soundtrack composed and performed live on stage by acclaimed musician James Marples, bringing a slice of rock n roll to one of the 20th Century’s most audacious American plays.

Sam Shepard (b 1942) is a playwright, actor, director and author. He has written over 45 plays (11 of which have won Obie Awards) including True Love, Fool for Love and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child, recently seen at Trafalgar Studios starring Ed Harris. He also wrote the screenplay for Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas for which he received a BAFTA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Gethin Anthony plays Jake. Anthony previously worked with the company on The Hotel Plays – Green Eyes. Other theatre credits include In the Vale of Health and What Fatima Did (Hampstead Theatre), A life of Galileo and Boris Gondonuv (RSC), Carrot (Theatre503), 24 Hour Plays (The Old Vic), In Praise of Love (Theatre Royal Northampton), Ditch (HighTide), Cling to me like Ivy (Birmingham Rep) and Cyrano de Bergerac (Oxford Playhouse). For television his credits include Game of Thrones, Aquarius, ALT, Call the Midwife, Cloud Chamber, 10 Days to War and Pinochet’s Progress; and for film, First Kill, Kodachrome, We are Monster, Copenhagen, Dreck, Into the Storm, Beyond the Rave and Bus Terminal.
Nancy Crane plays Meg. For theatre her credits include The Sewing Group, The Strip, The Sweetest Thing in Baseball and Now or Later (Royal Court Theatre), Teddy Ferrara (Donmar Warehouse), Next Fall (Southwark Playhouse), Chimerica (Almeida Theatre), Design for Living (The Old Vic), Angels in America and Love The Sinner (National Theatre), The Girl in the Goldfish Bowl and Six Degrees of Separation (Sheffield Crucible). For television her credits include Genius, Upstairs, Downstairs, Cambridge Spies, Strike Force and Nixon’s the One; and for film, The Current War, Leavey, Florence Foster Jenkins, Woman in Gold, Batman: The Dark Knight, The Road to Guantanamo and The Fourth Protocol.
Alexandra Dowling plays Beth. For theatre her credits include While The Sun Shines (Theatre Royal Bath), I Have Been Here Before and The Last of the De Mullins (Jermyn Street Theatre). For television her credits include The Musketeers, Game of Thrones and Merlin; and for film, Starbright and Hammer of the Gods.
Kate Fahy plays Lorraine. For theatre her credits include Handbagged (UK tour), After Electra (Tricycle Theatre), Definitely the Bahamas (Orange Tree Theatre), The Goat (Almeida Theatre and Apollo Theatre), Copenhagen (Watford Palace Theatre), Grace, Gaucho and Sparrowfall (Hampstead Theatre), Seduced (Royal Court), Old Flames (Arts Theatre), A Doll’s House (Riverside Studios), Bouncing and Sunday Morning (National Theatre) and Othello (Young Vic). For television her credits include The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, Death in Paradise, Cherished, Pure Wickedness, The Best Man, The House of Elliott, The Jury, Trial and Retribution, The Mozart Inquest, Danton’s Death, Terra Nova, Oxbridge Blues, The Lodger and The Nearly Man; and for film, Archipelago, Defiance, Brilliance, The Show, The Living and The Dead, The Fourth Angel, Somewhere Sometime.
Michael Fox plays Frankie. For theatre his credits include An Enemy of the People (Chichester Festival Theatre), As You Like it (Transport Theatre), Leaves of Glass (Alma Tavern) and Edmund Kean (Watford Palace Theatre). For television his credits include Endeavour, Downton Abbey, Marvellous, The Ark, New Worlds, Little Big Mouth, Family Affairs, Mrs Bradley Mysteries; and for film, Dunkirk and Good People.
Robert Lonsdale plays Mike. For theatre his credits include Plaques and Tangles, Open Court: Piigs and Brilliant Adventures (Royal Court), Another Place (Plymouth Theatre Royal), From Here to Eternity (Shaftesbury Theatre), A Life (Finborough Theatre), Anna Christie (Donmar Warehouse), Finding Neverland (Curve, Leicester), La Bete (Harold Pinter Theatre) and The Indian Wants the Bronx (Young Vic). For television his credits include Vera, Chewing Gum, Love Sick, The Interceptor, Lost Christmas, A Passionate Woman, Plus One and Decisions; and for film, The Glass House.
Laura Rogers plays Sally. For theatre her credits include Winter Solstice (Orange Tree Theatre), Private Lives (UK tour), Tipping The Velvet and Arcadia (Lyric Hammersmith), An Ideal Husband, Blue Remembered Hills, Hay Fever and Pressure (Chichester Festival Theatre), Masterpieces (Royal Court), 55 Days and Revelations (Hampstead Theatre), The Comedy of Errors (USA tour and Shakespeare’s Globe), Macbeth, A New World – The Life of Thomas Paine, As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Timon of Athens, The Taming of the Shrew and Richard III (Shakespeare’s Globe), The 39 Steps (Criterion Theatre), See How They Run (Royal Exchange, Manchester) and The Three Musketeers and The Barber of Seville (Bristol Old Vic). For television her credits include New Tricks, The Smoke, Dates, Twelfth Night, Dark Matters, Doctor Who Christmas Special, Missing, Albert’s Memorial, Rock Face, Running Scared, Relic Hunter, Pleasure Beach and The Sins; and for film, Love Me Do, The Right Hand Man, Nylon Ghosts and In Two Minds.
John Stahl plays Baylor. For theatre his credits include The Winter’s Tale (Lyceum Theatre), Father Comes Home From the War (Royal Court), The Crucible and Ghosts (Bristol Old Vic), Hamlet, All’s Well That Ends Well, As You Like It, King John, Richard III and A Soldier in Every Son (RSC), Troilus & Cressida, The Frontline, We, The People, Othello, Much Ado About Nothing and The Globe Mysteries (Shakespeare’s Globe), Frankenstein (National Theatre), The Whisky Taster (The Bush Theatre), The Alice Trilogy (Royal Court Theatre), Blue Eyes and Heels (Soho Theatre), The Found Man (Traverse Theatre). For television his credits include Game of Thrones, Being Human, Beehive, Murder Rooms, Glasgow Kiss, Rebus – The First Stone, Shetland 3, Dr Finlay, Resort to Murder, Crime Story, Life of Jolly; and film, Victoria and Abdul and Loch Ness.


3 – 27 May

7:30pm Monday – Saturday

3pm matinees on Tuesdays and Saturdays


77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD



020 7407 0234


Standard £20 | Concessions £16 | Previews £12