John Mortimer’s famously autobiographical play offers a gently engaging couple of hours at Chichester Festival Theatre this week.
A reminder that theatre doesn’t always have to be about dragging you to the edge of your seat, this one is all about sitting back and savouring, both the quality of the evocation and the beauty of the acting across the board but inevitably, especially from Rupert Everett.
Everett is the father in the piece, an awkward, eccentric, challenging man incapable of responding remotely in the way his son would dearly love him to. Instead as everyone moves on tiptoe around him, never daring to mention his blindness, the father reminisces and rails, dishing out the world’s least helpful advice as he tends his garden and drowns the earwigs.
Jack Bardoe is the adoring “son” and again it’s a part brought to life beautifully. He’s the young lad going off to school, reduced to tears by his father’s bizarre guidance; he’s the schoolboy who chums up with a fantasist and dares to bring him home. He makes a foray into film and then follows his father’s footsteps into the law while still pursuing his dreams of writing – all without the kind of overt encouragement he craves. Bardoe gives us a sense of just how well loved his father is, but there’s little about him that’s actually loveable – though plenty that is interesting. In the second half, the “son” starts to date – and finds that his future wife finds more favour than he does, to the point, as he says, that he finds himself being approved as the future husband for his father’s daughter-in-law rather than the other way round. And yet still he hopes.
It is touchingly done, with Everett hugely skilled and hugely watchable in the role, subtly highlighting the difference between love and like, the fact that the former doesn’t necessarily bring the latter in tow. In all he is aided by his loyal wife (Eleanor David).
The piece, directed Richard Eyre, comes with a surprisingly large cast, with Julian Wadham notable as an old-school post-war headmaster. Lovely too from the war-traumatised master who opens fire against his students with whatever is to hand – and then pays them reparations according to what exactly he has thrown at them.
Lovely too from Allegra Marland as the son’s wife. She questions that the son doesn’t stand up to him, but she too is drawn towards him. The point is that nice straightforward people are rarely the most interesting – and it’s the sheer complexity of the emotions the awkward ones inspire that keep them with us long after they have gone.
The piece is a change of pace, effectively and simply staged. And while it was never going to be scintillating, as you drive home, you can certainly feel it taking stronger hold of your thoughts.
Cast: Rupert Everett, Julian Wadham, Allegra Marland, John Dougall, Heather Bleasdale, Zena Carswell, Eleanor David, Jack Bardoe, Richard Hodder, Calum Finlay, Leoni Kibbey and Rob Pomfret.