Writer: James Kettle
Director: Didi Hopkins & Selina Cadell
Review: Matt Forrest
Mary Poppins seems to be in the public conscience an awful lot at the moment. This is of course due to the recent cinematic release of Mary Poppins Returns, which is keeping the magic alive. However writer James Kettle is also doing his bit for the ‘Poppins’ legacy, all be it with a different tact. Kettle’s latest play, The Life I Lead focuses on the life of British actor David Tomlinson, who played Mr Banks in the original Mary Poppins film.
Actor and comedian Miles Jupp brings Tomlinson to life in this one-man play, which focuses on various aspects of his life as an actor, father and war hero. This is a heartbreaking yet uplifting story that charms, entertains and will leave you with a grin from ear-to-ear.
With a set resembling a vaudeville theatre stage in the clouds, Jupp as Tomlinson talks directly to the audience in a warm, friendly welcoming manner: similar to the characters Tomlinson made a career portraying. Often playing the quintessential English gent, or lovable father figures, this is the David Tomlinson many children grew up knowing. However, there was a great deal more to the man: he was an RAF pilot in the Second World War; he lost his first wife and stepchildren in tragic circumstances and had an extraordinary friendship with Walt Disney.
The focus of The Life I Lead is on the relationship between Tomlinson and his father, as well as Tomlinson and his son, Willy. Tomlinson’s father Clarence is a cold, stern man, who offers nothing in the way of affection to his family: however, an extraordinary revelation explains Clarence’s strange behaviour. Whilst Tomlinson may act as a surrogate father to children across the land due to his exploits on the silver screen, he frustratingly cannot make a breakthrough with his child and again this leads to a startling revelation.
The Life I Lead is essential viewing and pretty much perfect: Jupp turns in a beautiful, captivating performance: charming and full of laughter, he holds your attention throughout. During the productions more tragic moments, Jupp is understated and restrained. It is a truly mesmerising performance: measured, subtle with the correct balance of comedy and pathos.
Kettle’s script is perfectly judged, insightful, well researched and it gets right to the heart of the subject matter. The action does not follow a linear narrative structure and jumps through various stages of Tomlinson’s life, which never confuses and keeps the action engaging and entertaining.
If there is any justice, The Life I Lead will be in line for a whole host of accolades when award season comes around as it’s a perfect example of how good theatre can be when you marry an extraordinary script with an exceptional performance.
Runs until the 24 February 2019 then tours | Image: Contributed