REVIEW: THE LIFE I LEAD (Park Theatre) ★★★★

David Tomlinson’s face is probably very familiar to many people, having been in several Disney films during the 1960’s, most notably Mary Poppins. However, many people are not familiar with his career outside of these films, knowing him mainly as Mr Banks. ‘The Life I Lead’ sees Tomlinson (played by Miles Jupp), take the audience through his life and career starting with his earliest theatrical experiences as a “professional hat-wearer” through to his later life as the father of an autistic son.

While overall it was comedic in tone, there were certainly some incredibly sad and some shocking moments, that were met with audible gasps from the audience. We are told stories about his time spent as a pilot during the Second World War, his first marriage, his strained relationship with his uptight father (who he often referred to CST rather than ‘father’) leading up to his time spent on the West End stage, in some very ridiculous sounding plays. You get the impression that Tomlinson was never someone who took himself too seriously, and this makes him all the more endearing.

The play consists of Miles Jupp alone on the stage as David Tomlinson throughout, occasionally portraying Tomlinson’s father or Walt Disney during some anecdotes. He plays the charismatic story-teller with such warmth, that I found myself hanging off his every word early into the production. The small theatre gave the play such an intimate feeling, the Jupp seemed to make eye contact with every single member of the audience at least once during his performance, which he did incredibly effectively, particularly during some of the more emotional moments. Jupp was able to tell Tomlinson’s story so well, that it was difficult to believe that it was not David Tomlinson himself on stage telling his own stories.

Written by James Kettle, the play knew when to hold the audience’s attention during the sadder moments and when to switch back to a lighter anecdote, without leaving too much opportunity to dwell on some upsetting revelations. There were some particularly funny moments, with belly laughs being heard throughout the theatre.

The set was incredibly simple. A door with a cut out in the shape of Tomlinson takes centre stage, with bowler hats dotted around the stage, reminding us of his most famous role. Lighting and music are used effectively throughout to help move the story along and to help with creating and easing tension during Jupp’s animated and moving performance.

As someone who has always been oddly drawn to David Tomlinson, I found this play incredibly touching and really enjoyable, although it may not be for everyone. Jupp’s performance was moving and made me feel like I was meeting the man himself. Towards the end, Tomlinson describes how he likes to think of himself as “Mr Banks’ ambassador on Earth” and I like to think that if David Tomlinson is not with us anymore, Jupp is the next best thing.

Reviewed by Stephanie Mansell
Photo: Piers Foley

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