The Life I Lead
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: