James Kettle, The Life I Lead (Directed by Didi Hopkins and Selina Cadell; Park Theatre)
Earlier this year, Mile Jupp vanished from chairing The News Quiz — I wondered if he might be filming something, but I reckon he must have been rehearsing and touring this one man play. This brings him full circle for me, as I suspect I first paid attention to him with his stand up/one man show about gatecrashing cricket commentary. I don’t think I’d connected him with Rev yet.
So this play came about because of a facial similarity between Jupp and David Tomlinson, one of those British character actors who was never quite a household name but did sterling duty in Hollywood, most notably as the father in Mary Poppins and its reshuffling Bedknobs and Broomsticks and the villain in The Love Bug. It turns out the dapper English gentleman act hides three tragedies or at least two tragedies and a difficulty — his own family, his first wife and adopted children and bringing up an autistic child in an era that barely began to understand.
Jupp, alone on stage, presents this as somewhere between hallucinations, dreas and performance, talking to the audience directly, reacting to our reactions (or lack), taking us through the obscure backwaters of weekly rep and theatrical digs, the charlatan magicianry of Walt Disney, teasing us by not yet getting to Julie Andrews. There were audible gasps at some of the revelations and parts of the play are genuinely moving, before Jupp turns on a six pence to comedy. I did wonder, given the number of single act epics of late, whether it needed the interval.
Meanwhile the set suggests a sitting room, with a step ladder and a single door, with a Jupp shaped cutout. Behind is a clouded sky backdrop. The nod must be to René Magritte, another surrealist in a trilby. But he flew rather different kites.