“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.
“Devas’ script is brilliant, his jet-black comedy works perfectly to confront such a difficult issue”
We’re Staying Right Here, written by Henry Devas and directed by Jez Pike, tells the story of Matt (Danny Kirrane) as he transforms from a red-cape wearing stand up comic to an unmotivated loser, hiding in his dingy flat with Tristabel (Tom Canton) and Benzies (Daniel Portman). The show perfectly grapples with the difficult topics of depression and suicide, using humour to highlight the deterioration of Matt’s mind. There is no escaping the war for Matt or for us it seems, as we all sat intensely grouped together in the small Park Theatre, the proximity of the room not allowing us to ignore Matt’s struggles for survival. But don’t worry, this isn’t your typical tale of doom and gloom for there is always a well-timed mum joke waiting to stop us from getting too close to Matt’s truth.
Matt is often buried amongst the trash, his half dressed existence pushed into the corner of Elizabeth Wright’s cleverly conceived room design. We watch Tristabel and Benzies prance around the small flat, repetitively cleaning, singing, arguing and relentlessly speaking about ‘going up.’ But what is up? As the play continues the audience is left in the dark (literally), helplessly trying to capture every piece of information that’s dropped like a weighted bomb into conversation. A perfect example of Dominic Brennan’s clever choice of music is when Benzies is crashing around the flat, packing bags and singing along to ‘Funky Town.’ Benzies joyfully sings (well, shouts) the lyrics ‘Talk about, Talk about,’ to which Matt violently refuses. In this moment, Pike artfully captures the crux of the issue, that there isn’t room in today’s society to talk about mental health, especially for men.
Devas’ script is brilliant, his jet-black comedy works perfectly to confront such a difficult issue. But be warned, there are some uncomfortably awkward moments. The well-timed jokes, which are incredibly funny and had the whole audience laughing out loud, interrupt such pivotal moments in the play. At times it felt like we were just about to gain territory, but just as we thought everything was moving in the right direction, it’s instantly snatched away. Devas artfully intertwines typical war language into the script, using our knowledge of past wars and of men’s struggles to shine, with the help of George Bach’s impressive lighting, a well needed spotlight onto the issue of mental health.
Wright’s stage design was beautifully done. Although basic in its conception, the simple design reflected Matt’s situation perfectly. The scattered rubbish and boarded up windows highlighted Matt’s inner turmoil and seemed typical of someone who is trying to shut the world out. The whole performance felt incredibly personal, as though we were sat inside the flat with the characters. The slightly claustrophobic environment felt symbolic of Matt’s struggles, with the audience representing Matt’s crowded and buzzing thoughts. The acting overall was superb. The actors bounced off of each other so well through their constant banter and button pushing.
We’re Staying Right Here is an impressive play that brilliantly tackles a very current issue.