David Tomlinson’s time off-screen is beautifully chronicled in this moving, life-affirming adventure – ★★★★★
Big characters need the space to breathe, and a dreamy, minimalist drawing room in the clouds proves perfect for David Tomlinson to monologue about life’s ups and downs – even if, at first, he doesn’t recognise that himself.
A selfless start to a one-man play all about the self is humorously paradoxical, but award-winning comedian Jupp knows how to hit the ground running – or rather, in this case, with a joyful frolic. With a sprinkling of a light musical score from Eliza Thompson, the actor jumps, lunges and bounces into several other roles, including lovers, Disney and most importantly, his father.
All it takes is for Jupp to put one hand behind his back and to rant about Napoleon for him to transform into the pessimistic elder gentleman. David’s father’s beef and disappointment with him, although never quite fully explained, lays the foundations for him to be a better parent to his own children – a drive for positivity in amongst life’s negativity which is the main ethos for David and James Kettle’s vibrant script.
After all, the idea of tragedy behind the comedy for leading comics is not unknown to audience members, and the lovable Mr Tomlinson has his fair share of heartbreak.
Some of the impressiveness of the production is how Jupp transitions from laugh-a-minute humour to the more poignant moments, aided by minimal lighting from Matthew Eagland. Though incredibly clever, it should not be surprising for an actor and comedian of routine. While at times the narrative is juddering and non-chronological, such as with David’s descriptions of past relationships, this is politely acknowledged by the man himself. Eventually these jolts in lighting and pace are quietly accepted as nods to a remarkably animated individual.
On the topic of allusions, it is to my shame that I am yet to see the iconic Mary Poppins, and as such some of the finer references, along with mentions of famous figures before my time, are lost on me. Yet the greater sense of nostalgia that Disney can evoke certainly doesn’t pass any audience member by. After all, the motif of memories, alongside themes of family and caring for others are what make life – and indeed, The Life I Lead – so deeply satisfying and pleasant.
The Life I Lead is now playing at the Wyndham’s Theatre until 21 September.