Tag Archives: Jonathan Evans

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

 

The Rubenstein Kiss

The Rubenstein Kiss
★★★★★

Southwark Playhouse

The Rubenstein Kiss

The Rubenstein Kiss

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 18th March 2019

★★★★★

 

“The urgency of the writing is matched by an outstanding cast across the board”

 

Just before sundown on Friday 19th June 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sent to the electric chair in New York’s Sing Sing prison, accused of passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Proclaiming themselves innocent, to the point of martyrdom, right up to their deaths, the couple were the first American citizens to be executed for espionage. That they were sacrificial lambs to McCarthyism is generally undisputed, but a further twist to the case was that it rested on the testimony of Ethel’s brother, who decades later told reporters that he lied to protect his own family.

With name changes for dramatic licence, their haunting true story is the basis of James Phillips’ “The Rubenstein Kiss”, which takes its title from the famous photograph of the Rosenberg’s kiss in the back of the prison van before their execution. The fictionalised version of the photograph hangs in an art gallery in the mid-seventies; where young law student Matthew (Dario Coates) meets, seemingly by chance, history teacher, Anna (Katie Eldred). From this, again seemingly, light-hearted vignette of the courting couple we are suddenly swept back to Esther and Jakob Rubenstein’s starkly furnished New York apartment in 1942.

What follows is an utterly compelling and thought provoking two hours of theatre. The essential beauty of Phillips’ play is that it perfectly combines the brutal political and social impact of the historical facts with a profound and deeply moving study of two connected families across two generations. The dialogue shoots straight to the heart of the characters’ innermost concerns, showering us with the impossible questions about morality, loyalty, betrayal, truth and patriotism at such a divisive time in America’s history.

The urgency of the writing is matched by an outstanding cast across the board. Henry Proffit and Ruby Bentall, as Jakob and Esther Rubenstein, both capture the unwavering passion and blind resolve of the doomed ideological couple; Bentall quite simply riveting in her final scenes under interrogation by Stephen Billington’s cool, chilling yet ambivalently sympathetic FBI agent, Paul Cranmer. Sean Rigby’s sensitive portrayal of the traitorous brother saves him from villainy and, like his fiancé, Rachel Lieberman (Eva-Jane Willis) shows that the choices we are forced to make are never clear cut. In fact, collectively the entire cast allow the audience the freedom to make their own conclusions.

Under Joe Harmston’s vital direction, the interlocking strands of the narrative, aided by Matthew Bugg’s swooping sound design, seamlessly cut between the forties and the seventies. Dario Coates and Katie Eldred as the young lovers brilliantly depict their struggle to find their own identity, frantically looking for a truth that can help explain the past.

This production grips throughout, and while being a truly enthralling history lesson, it is essentially a haunting, poignant, sublimely crafted and superbly acted piece of theatre.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Scott Rylander

 


The Rubenstein Kiss

Southwark Playhouse until 13th April

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

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