sat 22/06/2024

Mr and Mrs Nobody, Jermyn Street Theatre review – as comfortable as afternoon tea with jam puffs | reviews, news & interviews

Mr and Mrs Nobody, Jermyn Street Theatre review – as comfortable as afternoon tea with jam puffs

Mr and Mrs Nobody, Jermyn Street Theatre review – as comfortable as afternoon tea with jam puffs

Edward Baker-Duly seems to have sprung fully formed from the pages of 'Punch'

Once Upon a Time in Holloway: Miranda Foster and Edward Baker-DulySteve Gregson

If you’re looking for a distraction from the apocalyptic headlines that seem to be the norm right now, then it may appeal to descend into the pleasantly air-conditioned surroundings of Jermyn Street Theatre and take a trip to 1888.

Here you will be greeted by literature’s most famous nobody, Charles Pooter, whose comic fictional diary – after an initially lukewarm reception – came to be celebrated by figures ranging from Hilaire Belloc to Evelyn Waugh.

In this stage version, written by Keith Waterhouse in the 1980s, his account of his life commuting between Holloway and the City of London, where he works as a clerk, is balanced by his wife’s somewhat more acerbic diary. Where he is pompous and hapless, she is spirited and practical, helping him to navigate the minor crises that pop up like molehills in his day-to-day existence.

Mr and Mrs Nobody, Jermyn Street TheatreMiranda Foster (pictured left) plays the long-suffering Carrie Pooter, who must try and make the most of a house where everything is covered in soot because of the railway line at the bottom of the garden. There’s a comic zest to her performance whether she’s dealing with her husband’s repeated failure to mend anything in the house or bolstering his social pretensions. As Charles Pooter, Edward Baker-Duly (pictured below) seems to have sprung fully formed from the pages of Punch – where his character first appeared in the serial created by George Grossmith and Weedon Grossmith. He revels in Pooter’s moth-eaten vanity and corny wordplay, as well as – in an extraordinary moment – demonstrating the ability to play "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" by slapping his cheeks.

Gabriella Bird’s production, part of the Footprints Festival, is a proudly traditional two-hander – as tasteful and comfortable as afternoon tea with jam puffs. Despite the frequent references to the grime and chaos that surrounds the Pooters, Louie Whitemore’s set is pristine; with a backdrop of white net curtains, an upright piano, an elegant coat stand, a desk and a couple of upholstered chairs.

It falls to Baker-Duly to act out the parts of all the other men who are part of their story, ranging from their hapless son Lupin (who is more interested in leading a dissolute life in theatre than earning a living in the city) to Pooter’s stiff-as-a-poker boss Mr Perkupp. He does this all with the somewhat quizzical air of a gentleman recounting humorous anecdotes over whisky in his club.

This is very much a piece for the many people who love Diary of a Nobody, a gentle walk into a world of minor embarrassments and quotidian paranoia. What gave it its edge when it came out, of course, was the fact that at heart we are all nobodies – trudging daily through a host of discomforts and delusions in our attempt to assert to the world that we are something greater than the sum of our parts.

Mr and Mrs Nobody, Jermyn Street TheatreFoster and Baker-Duly make an enjoyable double act, and the two hours pass quickly. Yet this feels like a story about caricatures rather than characters. Given that their anxieties – about job security and quality of life – endure through the generations, it would have heightened the experience if they could have given more of a sense of the fears and worries underpinning the Pooters’ ramshackle hopes. Though maybe we’ve all had enough of fear and worry.

What’s in no doubt is that this is another green shoot in London’s tentative recovery from the stresses of the last year and a half. You emerge blinking from the theatre feeling as if you’ve been given time out from the world. Which is possibly all that some people are really looking for.


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