REVIEW: THE LIFE I LEAD (Wyndham’s Theatre) ★★★

“When I think of an English man I picture you” was Mr Disney’s remark to David Tomlinson’s individual brand of quirky wit and upper class oafishness as the quintessential Edwardian Mr Banks in the beloved family film, marking the career transfer to the silver screen for Dame Julie Andrews in ‘Mary Poppins’. Starring comedian Miles Jupp, James Kettle’s farce style play accounts the highs and lows of not just an actor but a man and father eager to comfort his children more than his own aloof paternal figure known simply as ‘CST’.

Lee Newby’s set feels as light as air – simply glorious to behold. There is a childlike quality in its simplicity with multiple bowler hats scattered around the stage. Some hung up, some draped over the top of door frames, all with the promise of our focal character portraying the many hats he shall wear. In the centre stands a door in which the silhouette of ‘Mr Banks’ (David Tomlinson’s beloved character) remains ever present.

Miles Jupp is hearty and warming as our hero Tomlinson. There are similarities to the Disney actor whilst retaining a sparkly sense of self that shines through. Charismatic and believable, Jupp hops delicately between the dry and witty one liners, to the more serious matters that plagued Tomlinson throughout his life, with ease and gentility.

My biggest gripe with the piece is that it seems to stay in the same spot for far too long. The glorious set felt almost untouched and underused. The direction (Selina Cadell and Didi Hopkins) was stale and didn’t seem to allow for Jupp to tell the story he was clearly capable of. What could have been a tour de force, instead was something more laboured and stretching. This wasn’t helped by the script, which although written with an obviously talented comic hand, simply didn’t focus on the most interesting aspects of his life. Every time we seemed to reach a moment of realisation the action changed to something less interesting.

Miles Jupp delivers a heartfelt and truly authentic performance, but is let down by a slow resolve that tears out the soul of the story that is more of a biography than a comedy. A Father, who played a father and his relationship with his own is a simple but emotionally charged premise but the piece promises more than it ultimately delivers.

Reviewed by Jimmy Richards
Photo: Piers Foley

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