Writer: Keith Waterhouse
Director: Gabriella Bird
George and Weedon Grossmith’s comic novel The Diary of a Nobody, initially a serialised column in Punch, offers up a satirical view of the Victorian middle classes that, while initially overlooked on first publication, has since been regarded as a classic of British humour.
In the 1980s, playwright Keith Waterhouse reimagined the events of the diary from the point of view not only of the original protagonist, Charles Pooter, but also of his long-suffering wife Caroline.
Revived at the Jermyn Street Theatre as part of its Footprints Festival, Miranda Foster and Edward Baker-Duly bring Carrie and Charles to life, he revelling in their new Holloway house that is a pleasant distance from his office, she increasingly frustrated at the steam and smoke that come with living so close to the railway and yearning to return to her beloved Peckham.
Louie Whitemore’s set design incorporates a few pieces of moveable furniture on the Jermyn Street’s small stage. Although some scene changes take a little too long, disrupting the flow of the gentle comedy, Foster and Baker-Duly largely push through by dint of their personalities. Yes, the occasional line may be flubbed, props may occasionally misbehave, but the pair recover with a humour and mutual respect that matches the Pooters’ so that it all feels like a natural fit.
The misadventures that befall the couple – from a disastrous function held by the Lord Mayor, to a holiday in which the same collection of grotesque acquaintances of her husband’s who plague Carrie’s home life also turn up in their idyll on the Kent coast – are all pretty low stakes, the humour deriving from largely self-inflicted woes.
Some of the greatest lines come from Waterhouse’s construction of Carrie’s half of the duelling diarists, particularly when she is called upon to accompany her drunken husband in a rendition of the Major-General’s Song from Pirates of Penzance (“I did not have the music… what I did not know is that Charles did not have the words”).
The second act suffers from repetition that, while intentional, serves to accentuate just how slight the underlying story really is. Still, Foster and Baker-Duly imbue both their main roles and the various personalities they meet with such character that this warm-hearted slice of Victorian comedy raises warm smiles and laughter throughout.
Continues until 31 July 2021