Ian Waller enjoys a fascinating and hugely entertaining show about the life of Disney favourite, David Tomlinson, in a one-man show starring Miles Jupp
As a child I loved David Tomlinson in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, playing the old magician who finds out that his spells, in fact, really could work. He was just as wonderful, of course, in Mary Poppins, as the children’s straight laced father, Mr Banks, and it was these two roles that have cemented Tomlinson’s place as a much-loved character actor.
In fact, there was so much more to this wonderfully British actor than his two most famous roles, and it is his extraordinary life that is brought to the stage in The Life I Lead, a new production by James Kettle that is currently playing at the Theatre Royal in Bath.
Comedian Miles Jupp is perfectly placed to tell Tomlinson’s tale in this really most enjoyable one-man show. He adopts the mannerisms, voice and even – for a while at least – the moustache of Tomlinson, as he tells a story that it as much entertaining as it is surprising, shocking and compelling.
The production takes place on a basic stage set of Tomlinson’s drawing room, complete with a door sporting his own silhouette and acting as the entrance to the different stages of his life. This includes his early years with his unloving father, his days as a jobbing repertory actor, becoming a dad to his four sons, making it big with Disney and his self-imposed retirement, complete with a fictional agent to turn away the unwanted attention of anyone offering him more work.
Alongside his professional career, we are introduced to Tomlinson’s own personal joys, achievements and a terrible tragedy, as well as a stunning family secret and wonderful love for the life he leads.
Throughout Miles Jupp is superb – engaging, charming and so watchable in Tomlinson’s shoes and three-piece pin-stripes. I am always incredibly impressed by the skills, energy and focus of an stage actor, and these appear only much greater for a performer taking front and centre stage in a one man show. Jupp is perhaps best known as a stand up comedian, and yet he takes on this demanding role with real professionalism and skill. Yes, as a stand-up he must be used to being on the stage alone, but a role such as this one gives no space for ad-libbing, unscheduled pauses or an unwelcome slip. Instead, he needs to stick to the excellent script while maintaining the character throughout, and Jupp manages this superbly, while still keeping it fresh and flowing along the way.
This production sees the anecdotes perfectly placed, the comedy wonderfully played and the drama genuinely touching. The result is a great night of compelling and entertaining theatre, and I loved every minute.
The Life I Lead plays at the Theatre Royal Bath until 31 August. More details at www.theatreroyal.org.uk