In a nutshell: this is a beautifully poignant, balanced and emotional narrative told with ease, as if one were reminiscing with an old friend.
If all you know about the life and career of David Tomlinson is that he once portrayed Mr. Banks in Disney’s Mary Poppins then I encourage you to witness this cleverly staged biopic. The Park Theatre is the perfect setting for this play, being neither too large or too opulent. There are little distractions and the eye becomes fixed to the small stage and it’s single occupant.
With the fourth wall broken from the very moment Jupp steps onto the stage this play is reminiscent of family gatherings, with stories from the past being passed around like tea and cakes. Kettle very cleverly anticipates the audiences reaction to several prompts in the script and like clockwork the monologue seemlessly runs on, regardless of laughter, nods of assent and murmurs from the punters. The audience are treated both as a single entity and as the rabble when it suits the moment. The silhouette of Mr Banks omnipresent throughout the play, a gentle reminder of David Tomlinson’s most famous role.
But this isn’t a play about the Hollywood fame, the glitter and the glory. No, at it’s heart this a play about fatherhood. We are frequently exposed to little idioms that Tomlinson’s father would come out with and how the relationship with his father shaped the parent he then became. Jupp portrays a multitude of characters effortlessly, but all quite clearly through the eyes of Tomlinson. When you go and see a prominent TV personality perform on stage it is easy to distance the actor from the character.
The joy about Jupp’s performance is that you forget you’re watching a character at all. Each facial expression, each caricature, each change of mood runs beautifully into the next. Without wanting to give too much away I will simply conclude that it is a true jewel of a play and never have I spent a more enjoyable 1 hour 25 minutes watching one man on stage.
The Life I Lead is at Park Theatre until 30th March and on tour until 7th April.
More information and tickets can be found here
Written by James Kettle
Directed by Didi Hopkinson and Selina Cadell