THE LIFE I LEAD
The Studio, Birmingham REP, Monday 11th March, 2019
For many of us, the actor David Tomlinson is firmly rooted in childhood memories of beloved films. Most famous as the cold and stuffy Mr Banks in Mary Poppins and as the eccentric would-be magician in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Tomlinson represented a certain type of Englishness: gentlemanly, well-spoken, emotionally stifled but ultimately lovable. This new comedy written by James Kettle invokes the spirit of the man, recounting anecdotes of his professional and personal life.
Miles Jupp IS David Tomlinson in this one-man vehicle for his talents. At certain times, Matthew England’s lighting strikes Jupp just the right way and Tomlinson’s features seems to emerge, (even after he has peeled off the false moustache) and Jupp’s performance gets the intonation and attitude spot on, you’d think he was being possessed by the late actor himself.
In an endearing, charming manner, with a turn of phrase of which P G Wodehouse would be proud, Tomlinson tells us stories that amuse, surprise, shock and touch us, as the case may be. We learn of his dealings with Walt Disney, the tragedy that befell his first wife and her children, his opinion of Julie Andrews, and, chiefly, we hear stories of his father, the irascible, intractable C. S. T. whom Jupp inhabits in caricature. It turns out Tomlinson père carried a dark secret, a reason for his lifelong detachment from his son. Later, when he has sons of his own, Tomlinson finds himself distanced from his third boy, who is misdiagnosed as deaf but is later found to be autistic.
Fatherhood forms the backbone of this life story: Tomlinson’s father, his own experiences as a father, and that quintessential father-figure, Mr Banks. It makes you think of your own father, whatever he was like, and it’s something of a relief to learn that Tomlinson was exactly what you’d hope, with no skeletons in his past, no wrong-doing or shenanigans are brought to light to tarnish the image of this lovely man.
Directors Didi Hopkins and Selina Cadell keep Jupp on the move, using lighting and sound to signify changes in time and place. Played out on a gorgeous stage set by Lee Newby, a kind of drawing-room in the sky, this production features a captivating performance from Jupp, and is exactly how it appears: heavenly.