“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.
“deeply personal, yet universal; beautifully crafted, yet natural and full of love”
There are some extraordinary theatrical experiences that move you so much that you want everybody to share them. This is one of them. Gently Down the Stream is written from the heart with such genuine feeling and soul that it gets inside you, taking you on a journey full of laughter, tears and hopeful joy.
Martin Sherman wanted to write a play that looked at the changes in gay lifestyle during his lifetime, but couldn’t figure out how to go about it until, one day when shopping for groceries, he got the idea of setting the story around an intergenerational relationship. The play takes place in West London over a thirteen year period, from 2001 to 2014, starting at the beginning of the relationship between sixty two year old Beau and twenty-eight year old Rufus. Rufus’ desire to learn about Beau’s life and his experiences on the gay scene take the audience on a voyage from New Orleans, where he grew up, through New York, Paris and London, from the forties on. As the love between Beau and Rufus develops they deal with their own personal demons, against the background of memory and history, until Harry arrives in their lives and changes everything.
Sherman says “I would write about a generation of gay men – my generation – that was brought up to believe they weren’t allowed to love, who now had to deal with a young generation that had no doubt but that they had every right to love.” His writing is deeply personal, yet universal; beautifully crafted, yet natural and full of love.
Jonathan Hyde’s Beau is touching and very funny. Beau’s life story takes us through iconic moments in gay history and intensely personal memories, and Hyde thoroughly inhabits the role. If his accent seems, at times, to slip, it doesn’t matter. He is outstandingly real and believable. Rufus is played by Ben Allen with energy and charm. He breathes new life into Beau, showing him new possibilities as he learns about the past. Harry Lawtey brings humour and a delightful freshness to the role of Harry, changing the relationship between Beau and Rufus, and opening the way for other kinds of love.
Director Sean Mathias is a long term friend of the writer, and he has worked with Sherman and his cast to produce an unforgettable piece of theatre. The set, designed by Lee Newby, is a living room with a stairs leading to an upper hallway, a perfect home for Beau, giving a sense of his character through his furniture and possessions. Jamie Platt’s lighting and Lex Kosanke’s sound design meld together, adding to the atmospheric background of the play.
Gently Down the Stream is an important piece of work that tells a story that we need to know. A story of how gay men have come from a world where their lives and loves were illegal, to a world where they can marry and raise children together. There is still homophobia, there are still battles to be won, but this journey through a history that includes Stonewall and AIDS, is a triumphant one. In this play, that is universal and deeply personal, Beau, Rufus and Harry show us how love has many forms, and is at the heart of a life well lived.