Tag Archives: Robert Bathurst



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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CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE 90s MUSICAL | ★★★★ | The Other Palace | January 2024
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What a Carve Up!



What A Carve up!

What a Carve Up!

Online via whatacarveup.com

Reviewed – 31st October 2020



“a potent mix of Agatha Christie and Michael Moore that thrillingly keeps you on your toes”


Minutes after watching the evening News Special featuring the Prime Minister declaring ‘Lockdown 2’, I switched off to watch the online stream theatre production of “What A Carve Up!”. The timing is perfectly apposite, not just because this production is one of the finest examples of the way theatre is having to adapt to reach audiences in the face of a pandemic, but also because the presentation, the treatment and the execution of the story is brilliantly and almost painfully relevant, forcing you to think twice (at the very least) about where we are, and how did we get here?

A co-production between the Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre and New Wolsey Theatre, the show is cleverly constructed as a docudrama, based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Coe published in the early nineties. The original novel, which was hailed as one of the finest English satires at the time, focuses on the fictitious Winshaw family: a dynasty that embodies absolutely everything that is politically and socially corrupt. A family that represents the narrow, self-serving interests of those in power whose influence in (or rather control of) banking, the media, agriculture, healthcare, the arms trade and the arts (the list goes on) ultimately leads to the bloodbath in which they perish; their individual violent deaths reflecting their particular professional sins.

That is not a spoiler! It is merely the starting point. Henry Filloux-Bennett picks up on the story thirty years later with razor-sharp insight and the benefit of hindsight. One of Coe’s novel’s protagonists was Michael Owen, a writer who is the prime suspect in the murder investigation. In Filloux-Bennett’s update the focus is on his son Raymond as he questions the evidence. Alfred Enoch plays Raymond, stealing the show with a captivating portrayal of a dispossessed son, robbed of truth and justice as well as family. He narrates his story straight to camera in the style of a YouTube podcast. In tandem, director Tamara Harvey cuts to a present-day televised interview with the only surviving Winshaw family member. Tamzin Outhwaite is chillingly cool as the interviewer who, on camera, surreptitiously conveys her dislike for her subject; a stunningly honest and believable performance from Fiona Button who portrays the dewy-eyed glamour that ultimately fails to conceal a hard pragmatism inherited from her forebears. The rest of the piece is filled with the ‘who’s who’ of theatre delivering cameos, including Sir Derek Jacobi, Stephen Fry, Sharon D Clarke, Griff Rhys Jones, Robert Bathurst, Celia Imrie, Dervla Kirwan, Catrin Aaron, Jonathan Bailey, Jamie Ballard, Samuel Barnett, Jack Dixon, Rebecca Front, Julian Harries, James McNicholas and Lizzie Muncey.

In an hour and three quarters the subject matter is in danger of being a little stretched but never does this feel over long, and the frequent use of repetition, flashback and re-takes only strengthens the narrative and the message. “What A Carve Up!” is a riveting piece of online theatre; a potent mix of Agatha Christie and Michael Moore that thrillingly keeps you on your toes. The strands are sometimes complicated but eventually weave together beautifully to reveal the whole picture. And it is frightening. Coe’s book is a political satire that in Filloux-Bennett’s hands is just as resonant as ever. If not more so. The Winshaw’s were the epitome of what went wrong back then in a time of ideological change. Whatever your persuasion, this production seems to indicate that we now live in an age of political shamelessness, cruelty and indifference that the Winshaws could only have dreamed of. The skilful impartiality of the subtext is a credit to the writing and the performances. At no point are we coerced into a way of thinking, but the audience, though in isolation across the nation, are probably moved in similar ways.

This production is unmissable. A triumph. Delightfully entertaining and just as thought provoking. Occasionally hard going, but worth hanging on to the bitter end. The closing lines, delivered by Alfred Enoch, are uncannily and deliberately timely. And indescribably heart-breaking.



Reviewed by Jonathan Evans


What a Carve Up!

Online via whatacarveup.com until 29th November


Recently reviewed by Jonathan:
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The Great Gatsby | ★★★★★ | Immersive LDN | October 2020


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