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Posts Tagged ‘Miles Jupp’

This show takes its title from a song in Mary Poppins sung by Mr Banks, played by the actor David Tomlinson, the subject of the play. A one-man biographical memoir featuring Miles Jupp, and its rather good.

Tomlinson had a very successful career playing the archetypal English gent. Though he worked on stage and TV, it was his prolific big screen career, some fifty films, for which he was best known. Walt Disney was apparently initially reluctant to cast him as Banks, but must have warmed to him as he later also cast him in Bedknobs & Broomsticks and The Love Bug, a trio of films which made him recognisable to a generation of children, and their parents & grandparents.

In addition to his film career, we learn about his difficult relationship with his domineering father, who led a double life, and the contrasting close relationship with his autistic son, one of four he had with second wife Audrey. These moving moments alternate with extremely funny ones of English eccentricity, somewhat lost in translation in Hollywood. Lee Newby’s Magrittesque pale blue set provides the perfect backdrop. Jupp plays Tomlinson engagingly, with great audience contact, warmth and charm.

It appears to be comedy writer James Kettle’s first play; an impressive achievement indeed. Perhaps Jupp is so comfortable with Kettle’s lines because he writes them for the News Quiz too. There’s a delicacy and lightness of touch about the writing, staging and performance that makes for a delightful evening, well worth a couple of hours of your time.

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Though its billed as a comedy and it made me laugh – a lot – there’s more to Sam Holcroft’s play about the family Christmas from hell; it made me think a lot too.

Emma, the daughter of Adam & Sheena, is to undergo CGT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) in an attempt to cure her chronic fatigue. CGT requires you to create rules for living – coping strategies. Until we meet Emma, we spend Christmas morning with her parents, grandmother, uncle and his new girlfriend preparing the lunch. They have their own coping strategies too and these are explained to us on two giant scoreboards. In the second half these ‘rules for living’ are elaborated and explained and points scored whenever the strategies are successfully implemented. Everyone begins to realise mum has been in denial about dad’s illness when he arrives for a visit from hospital, at which point things break down completely as rules are abandoned, truths revealed and things get thrown – big-time! When we do meet Emma, she appears to be the only normal person in the room.

The Dorfman is configured as a large rectangular kitchen / diner with multi-level seating on the long sides and one level high up, above the scoreboards, on the short sides. It felt very voyeuristic from behind a half-wall on the front row. Chloe Lamford’s clever design is matched by the originality of the structure of the play and Marianne Elliott’s audacious production. The characterisations are excellent and they are brilliantly brought to life by the five lead actors. The chalk-and-cheese brothers are very well played by Stephen Manghan, ex-cricketer now legal associate, as Adam and Miles Jupp, sometime actor who’s also settled for the law, as Matthew, both influenced if not bullied by dad. Adam’s wife Sheena, beautifully played by Claudie Blakley, is too fond of a tipple and focused on alternative therapies for Emma, solutions not exactly embraced by Adam. Maggie Service is a loud, clumsy, dippy delight as Matt’s new(ish) girlfriend, actress Carrie. Deborah Findlay is superb as the pill-popping mum who has clearly been put upon for donkey’s years. Lovely performances.

In between the laughs, I found myself thinking about my own (and others) coping strategies and reflecting on my own dysfunctional family! An original and entertaining evening .

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I left the theatre last night with two theories – that Alan Bennett decided he wanted to see how many issues he could cover in two hours (more Ackybourn than Bennett!) or that he was downloading everything he wanted to say about everything while he still has a chance. If any play has ever thrown in the kitchen sink, without a kitchen sink, this is it.

I’ve already lost track of how many issues he covers and my brain hurts even trying to recall them. At its heart it’s the heritage industry in general and the National Trust in particular. Within that there’s the sub-issues of conserving & preserving versus access & exploitation, the roles of the ‘volunteers’, the industrial ‘colonialists’ and their victims, the morals of the Church of England, business and pornography……

Buried in all this is a fascinating debate (or three), some great satire and some very funny lines – but he tries to do too much and in so doing turns the characters into caricatures & stereotypes and the situations into farce (particularly in the second half). Even lovely central performances from Francis de la Tour, Linda Bassett and Selina Cadell get a bit buried and delightful cameos from Miles Jupp, Nicholas le Provost and Peter Egan likewise. This all takes place on a stunning set of a run down ‘stately’ home in South Yorkshire by Bob Crowley which transforms spectacularly towards the end.

It’s by no means vintage Bennett and seemed to me like it was something he hadn’t yet finished. I was surprised that director Nicholas Hytner hadn’t reigned it in and given it more focus. What could have been as fascinating a debate about heritage as The History Boys was about education has turned into a fairly pedestrian comedy which raises a lot of issues but doesn’t really explore any in depth.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself, but compared with all the other NT Bennett’s – Single Spies, The Madness of George III, The History Boys and The Habit of Art – this just isn’t in the same league.

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