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Posts Tagged ‘Ned Sherrin’

It’s over twenty years since I saw the original production of this play. It had a very original structure – a biographical monologue interrupted by ‘illustrations’ by characters described in the monologue (some time later, Improbable Theatre did the same with real people in Lifegame) – and a performance from Peter O’Toole which added a frisson because you couldn’t decide if he was playing drunk or actually was drunk!

Jeffrey Bernard was a journalist, gambler, raconteur and professional drunk. He was notorious to those that came across him, but after the play was staged became what we would call today a ‘celebrity’. In the play he tells his own story whilst locked into Soho’s Coach & Horses overnight by mistake. He drinks as he does and some of those he mentions and some of the stories he tells are illustrated by a host of characters, played by four actors, who come on stage briefly to introduce the character or play out the story.

It was fascinating to return to it after 20 years with a different actor, Robert Powell,  playing Bernard. It’s slightly less shocking, but still very funny and the structure remains clever, fresh and perfect for the story it tells. Powell is clearly enjoying playing this role and does so very well, with almost continual eye contact with the audience and a knowing smile that make it feel like you’re in the pub with him. That’s helped, of course, by a realistic pub set from Jonathan Fensom and in our case by front stalls seats, again within wig spotting distance! Director David Grindley’s staging serves Keith Waterhouse’s play well and is pretty faithful to Ned Sherrin’s original production – no point in messing with something that worked.

I don’t know if this Bath originated touring production is intended for the West End but I think the timing is good and it could well succeed again; my two companions were new to it and enjoyed it as much as I did.

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