Chichester Festival Theatre’s winter touring season opens with the celebrated autobiographical play written by Sir John Mortimer, and directed by Richard Eyre. This is a wonderful snapshot of their father/son relationship and portrait of family life in a bygone era, with plenty of enjoyment to be had. The son acts as the narrator looking back over his lonely childhood through school and marriage to a divorcee with two children. She stands up to him but he is absolutely adored by his loyal subservient wife and grandchildren.
John grew up in the shadow of his formidable father and forever craved approval from this eccentric and brilliant divorce barrister. An only child and sent away to boarding school, he was always yearning for his father’s respect, even shelving his own aspirations to become a writer in order to follow his father into the law. In midlife his father knocked his head and despite losing his sight, his blindness is never mentioned within the family. As his father’s health declines and ultimately fails, this cantankerous man with such a huge presence, leaves an overwhelming sense of loss for his family.
Designer Bob Crowley has created a stunning backdrop of trees to give a sense of the much-loved garden and coupled with atmospheric lighting effects throughout, is a visual treat.
There are some fine performances from Jack Bardoe (son) portraying both child and adult and Allegra Marland (Elizabeth) as his wife. Julian Wadham (headmaster) shines too, and gives a hilarious speech to his pre-pubescent pupils on the dangers of dreams and unsolicited gifts of cake! However, Rupert Everett dominates in the central role as father, giving a masterclass. A theatrical and irascible showman he delivers some brilliant lines including complaining to his wife that his “coffee is like Arctic mud” and pointing out to his future daughter-in-law that his “son has no assets and she is a catch who could do better”!
An excellent and highly recommended drama depicting this larger-than-life character and the interaction with his son.
Reviewer: Jill Lawrie