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A Voyage Round My Father
October 31st - November 4th
Robert Fox, Jonathan Church Theatre Productions and Theatre Royal Bath Productions present
RUPERT EVERETT and JULIAN WADHAM in
A VOYAGE ROUND MY FATHER
by John Mortimer
Directed by Richard Eyre
BAFTA and Golden Globe nominee Rupert Everett stars in John Mortimer’s celebrated autobiographical play.
Growing up in the shadow of a brilliant and eccentric barrister, a man whose tea-time conversation could take in music hall, adultery, evolution, the ridiculous inconvenience of sex, Shakespeare, and the importance of avoiding anything heroic in wartime, the son continually yearns for his father’s love and respect.
A Voyage Round My Father shines a light on this delicate relationship between a young man and his father who adored his garden and hated visitors, and whose blindness was never mentioned, and introduces us to world of hilarious eccentrics, bumbling headteachers and exasperated relatives.
John Mortimer was a novelist, playwright and a barrister in his own right, renowned for his political dramas and creator of Rumpole of The Bailey.
Rupert Everett’s leading roles have included the multi award-winning film My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Importance of Being Earnest, An Ideal Husband, Dance With A Stranger and The Happy Prince. His stage roles have included Blithe Spirit on Broadway, Pygmalion and The Judas Kiss in the West End and Uncle Vanya in the Theatre Royal Bath Summer Season.
Julian Wadham starred with Rupert Everett and Kenneth Branagh in the original West End production of Another Country. His extensive screen career has included roles in The Madness of King George, The English Patient, Victoria & Abdul and Downton Abbey, with numerous stage appearances with the National Theatre and the Royal Court.
Former Artistic Director of the National Theatre Richard Eyre is joined by an extraordinary creative team of Olivier and Tony Award winners including designer Bob Crowley (An American in Paris, Mary Poppins) and lighting designer Hugh Vanstone (Matilda The Musical)
“A clever, comic evocation of another era” Guardian
“Funny and moving” The Stage
“Thoroughly entertaining” The Times
Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes (including interval)
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan.
Showtime! John Phillpott
Since the dawn of time, it’s probably been fair to say that most parents have wanted the best for their children. Which is, of course, mistake number one.
Let’s go back to the beginning. For upon examining the evidence, it seems that Adam and Eve were the first helicopter mum and dad who messed up big time.
All right, even if the missus did have the poor start in life, having been carved out of a spare rib, looking on the bright side, the couple did live in this wonderful, albeit serpent-infested garden, plenty of fruit trees and so on.
And yet, despite what we would now regard as being a secure, middle-class upbringing, unlike goody-goodies Abel and Seth, Cain was totally screwed up.
Fast forward a few millennia, and parents are still at it and making the same mistakes. Not only do they insist on physically creating images of themselves, but the kids are also obliged to be living and breathing extensions, too.
Superficially, John Mortimer’s searingly perceptive play is seen as a father and son conflict, when it is actually an account of how the two of them learn to happily co-exist together in the middle of an emotional no-man’s land.
The father in question, sympathetically played with unerring accuracy and consummate style by Rupert Everett, has been blinded after a freak accident involving an apple tree. Ah, it seems we’re back in the realms of forbidden fruit again, would you Adam and Eve it.
This disability renders him even more cantankerous than ever, although from my own recollections, fathers like him were never all that in short supply when I was a young shaver.
Anyway, he wants his son (Jack Bardoe) to follow him into the legal profession and thereby be a chip off the old proverbial. To achieve his father’s ambition, the boy must therefore be sent to a public school, where any number of gauntlets, both physical and mental, must be run.
These take the form of tyrants in gowns hurling books and blackboard rubbers at any pupil who mucks up his Latin declensions or drastically cocks up the Pythagoras Theorem.
For younger readers, secure in the relatively warm bath that is the classroom of today, let me assure them that such bursts of totalitarian insanity once regularly occurred. Hey, it didn’t do me any harm.
When not launching missiles at pubescent males, these same lunatics would regularly deliver stern homilies about always playing the game, never letting the side down, and – importantly - the need to take cold showers should a recurring nocturnal dream prove troublesome.
The annual observance of Armistice Day would inevitably prove to be the tour de force, when mass slaughter might invariably be likened to an inter-schools sports matches, where the decent chaps would always prevail, provided that they played fair and certainly never hit below the belt.
I loved Julian Wadham’s headmaster character. Oh yes, didn’t it all come rushing back in a welter of chalk dust, ritual humiliation, and the sharp report of bamboo on worsted trouser.
Meanwhile, Eleanor David as the boy’s long-suffering mother remains oblivious to the domestic politics, being content to ensure her sightless husband’s bibs are always tied, the teapot never runs out, and there is a constant supply of toast and marmalade.
John Mortimer always wanted to be a writer, and became one, despite a father who wanted to micro-manage his son’s life, plus a cowed, brow-beaten mother who believed that constant outpourings of affection for her son might somehow equip him for life.
But not for the first time in the history of the world, their projected and well-meant fantasies would come to nothing. Just as a horse can be led to water, making it drink is a totally different matter. For destiny had other plans for young John Mortimer.
Those of you familiar with the works of Coventry poet Philip Larkin will know that, like John Mortimer, he also had rather firm, not to say explicit views on this very same subject. Parents everywhere might like to look up the verse in question and maybe learn something.
And, at the same time, perhaps make a note to pop along to Malvern Theatres this week to see a wonderfully entertaining piece of drama that is also a vehicle for quite a few basic and uncomfortable home truths.
The View from the Stalls - Pete Phillips
From the man who brought you Rumpole of the Bailey…
It is more than half a century since A Voyage Round My Father was first staged and this touring version stars Rupert Everett in the part of "father" and Jack Bardoe as "son", with Everett stepping into the shoes of luminaries such as Alec Guinness, Laurence Olivier and Derek Jacobi. So clearly this is a role which attracts big hitters. This is John Mortimer's autobiographical tale of his relationship with his father who, as depicted in a shocking scene on stage, was suddenly blinded and spent the rest of his life having his adored garden described to him by others, including his wife and daughter-in-law.
His love is his garden is key and is conveyed perfectly by the set which, though fairly minimalistic, contains huge arches which are a mass of greenery. Occasionally, other props are brought in to represent other settings but the garden aspect is always present.
His father is clearly a brilliant man and even blindness does not stop that. Ultimately though, he is a man who his son typically finds it difficult to connect with. The play effectively covers an entire life span for the son - starting with him playing at school (he was, of course, sent away) with his friend Reigate, then as a teenager, until finally taking on the mantle which his father wanted for him, a career in law (though initially this was not to prove particularly lucrative and he and his wife Iris (Allegra Marland) struggled to fund the necessities of life, which apparently include Vim!
Indeed Iris is the one who occasionally puts the cat amongst the pigeons, challenging the father's authority and on one occasion asking why he bothers about the garden given that he is blind (a condition which was never apparently mentioned within the family unit). There was a noticeable gasp from the audience when she asked that! Throughout his life, it is the father's wife (Eleanor David) who remains his constant companion, feeding him and describing the flowers to him.
Like life itself, the show drifts towards its inevitable conclusion, with Everett quietly giving up on life, his transformation from young father to old man complete and very effectively achieved. It is not, however, a story which is designed to elicit any sympathy for either father or son - it is simply a portrayal of a complex relationship between the two (and on others) and the effects that is has on both.
Birmingham Mail - Alison Brinkworth
A-list star Rupert Everett has a sheen about him that comes from decades on stage and screen. From his naughtiness alongside Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding to bringing alive Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband.
More commonly seen in theatres in London's West End, the chance to see the BAFTA and Golden Globe nominee performing live in Worcestershire seemed too good to be true. Malvern Theatres has a knack for attracting some of the biggest names and shows to its charming renovated complex and this is its latest coup.
Malvern is the closest the tour of A Voyage Round My Father starring Everett gets to Birmingham's theatre world. It stays at Malvern Theatres until Saturday November 4 and is just an hour away from Brum on the M5.
It's a gentle autobiographical play by John Mortimer, who is famous for writing the Rumpole of the Bailey stories, along with being the dad of actress Emily Mortimer.
This play looks back at Mortimer's early life in the shadow of his eccentric and brilliant barrister father, played by Everett. He was the kind of dominant figure that didn't let going blind in an accident hamper his career as a winning divorce lawyer. Yet his family were never allowed to mention his loss of sight.
Some of his escapades running rings around the competition in court adds zest to this sentimental tale, in a nod to much-loved Rumpole. It zips along with gentle humour but it is predominantly a family saga about the relationship between a father and son.
There's an impressive creative team behind this Theatre Royal Bath production too. It's directed by Olivier Award-winning Richard Eyre. He was the former Artistic Director at the National Theatre, also behind movies from Cate Blanchett film Notes On A Scandal to The Children Act with Emma Thompson.
Eyre keeps the story moving swiftly and has ensembled a fine cast to support Everett. Julian Wadham, instantly recognisable from films War Horse and The English Patient, takes on various roles in this two-hour play.
He gets the most laughs as a headmaster giving very outdated advice. His birds and the bees talk consists of telling young male pupils to take lots of cold showers or go for a run when they feel the urge.
That's the essence of this play - a nostalgic trip back to the 1930s to 1950s. We see how Everett's Father influences his Son, played by an excellent Jack Bardoe, in so many ways.
Deterring him from writing to become a barrister, urging him to find a job that's "not heroic" when World War Two starts and even trying to dissuade his son's fiance from marrying him.
Everett is mesmerising on stage and oozes class. He gives a thoroughly polished performance that comes with experience and talent.
His extra touches of detail make it believable that his character is completely blind. Make-up helps him age throughout the show but his mannerisms make it so much more authentic.
On top of that, Olivier and Tony Award winners for design and lighting, Bob Crowley and Hugh Vanstone are also involved. That explains why the staging is so impressive. Simple but impactful using screens to recreate forests and gardens that the Father loved so much.
A Voyage Round My Father is a tender and mellow story that's lifted by a first rate production. Everett proves beyond doubt what an exceptional acting talent he is in this classy, charming play. It's an extraordinary opportunity to see Everett up-close performing locally - make sure you don't miss out.
What's On Worcestershire - Sue Hull
Previous versions of John Mortimer’s autobiographical play, A Voyage Round My Father, have seen heavyweight thespians Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness and Derek Jacobi taking on the role of Mortimer’s parent - the father of the title.
This touring production finds Rupert Everett in the part, playing opposite Jack Bardoe in a coming-of-age play that calls to mind a version of England that is fast fading from memory.
Novelist, playwright & barrister Mortimer is best known for his creation of Horace Rumpole, the man of law at the centre of long-running television series Rumpole Of The Bailey (1978 -1992). Mortimer’s father, himself a barrister, provided some of the inspiration for the character.
The play opens in the 1920s and traces the son’s delicate relationship with his eccentric, irascible, egotistical and often unkind parent. When blinded by a freak accident, Father stubbornly declines to acknowledge his disability, making nighttime visits to his garden to dispose of the earwigs - even though he can’t see them - that lurk among the dahlias. He is supported throughout by dutiful, loyal and long-suffering wife Doris (Eleanor David) and continues to work as a barrister.
Father may be brilliant academically, but he has no idea how to connect emotionally with his dutiful son (Bardoe), or anyone else for that matter. He fails to show interest in, or affection for, anything other than his beloved garden, a fact which leaves his son having to deal with conflicting feelings about their relationship. It also makes Young Mortimer determined to be a man very different to his father when he grows up.
Time moves forward, and the boy is sent away to be educated, encountering the absurdities of English public-school life. His bumbling and waffling headteacher (Julian Wadham) brings real humour to proceedings. The head’s attempts to discuss sex education with a class of pre-pubescent schoolboys - which amounts to advising them to take cold baths or go for a run whenever they “feel the urge” - brought plenty of gentle laughter from last night’s audience.
Indeed, humour is at the heart of this show. Everett’s portrayal of Father - as a domineering man with acerbic one-liners and no shortage of put-downs, interspersed with quotes from the classics, the Bible, and snatches of the popular music-hall song Pretty Little Polly Perkins - also prompted audience laughter at various points.
Young Mortimer aspires to be a writer but is persuaded by his father to follow his footsteps into law. He eventually meets and marries Elizabeth (Allegra Marland). Over time, however - and despite his youthful promises to himself - he gradually adopts Father’s behaviours and mannerisms, leading an increasingly fraught and frustrated Elizabeth to accuse him of becoming more like his parent with every passing day...
As last night’s performance progressed, I was surprised to find myself warming to Father. Although a non-conformist with many extremely annoying failings, he is also a brave and inspiring man. In a particularly touching scene, he displays a vulnerability that pulls at the heartstrings. When Elizabeth questions the merit of his spending time in the garden, given that he can’t see, he asks her to walk with him and “be his eyes”, something which previously he has allowed only his wife and son to be. His request, an opening of his heart towards Elizabeth, displays a softer, gentler, more engaging side of this often-curmudgeonly man. His daughter-in-law’s subsequent description of what she sees in his garden paints a picture in Father’s mind’s-eye that brings the flora & fauna vividly to life for him.
This latest production of A Voyage Round My Father - directed by five-time Olivier Award winner Sir Richard Eyre, a personal friend of John Mortimer - has many merits and is extremely well acted. A warm and nostalgic imagining of a bygone era, it is replete with quaint, poignant and endearing moments. Understandably and inevitably it seems more than a little removed from life in the 2020s, but there’s nevertheless plenty that will chime with many a modern-day viewer, not least the impact of losing a parent and recollections both good and bad of growing up.
This was an entertaining, enthralling and emotional night at the theatre.
Fairy Powered Productions - Courie Amado Juneau
A Voyage Round My Father is John Mortimer’s memoir brought to the stage. First performed in 1970, over the years it’s had the biggest names in the business (like Olivier and Jacobi) leading the cast and tonight is no except with another phenomenal talent, the wonderful Rupert Everett, playing the titular character. His transformation as he aged was nothing short of remarkable. To make a character who is at times scheming, grumpy and cynical so likeable shows his abundant talent. The way he handled the script’s tender moments – like telling stories to his grandchildren or when his disability was confronted head on was nothing short of an acting masterclass. But he could also burst forth with joy or anger at a moment’s notice and this turning on a sixpence was also a joy to behold.
Eleanor David, as mother, was the perfect compliment to father, giving us a portrayal full of old fashioned love, kindness and patience. I found her reading very sympathetic and rather fell in love with her to the bargain!
Jack Bardoe, as son, has the most stage time as we see him navigating the choppy waters of his school years, making friends, dealing with girls, having his own opinions and eventually forging out on his own. The professional overlap with his father (both lawyers) gave us some delicate and comical interplay between the two male leads.
Julian Wadham played several roles with distinction and was everything one could hope for in a public schoolmaster – crusty, old fashioned, meaning well whilst imparting dubious advice upon his unsuspecting pupils. Allegra Marland really shone as Elizabeth – especially when standing her ground in the face of some fruity (old fashioned) male attitudes. But, honestly, all the cast were suberb and the play would have been diminished considerably had any of them been missing.
The set and props were deployed intelligently to convey a multitude of scenes and was lit creatively to focus the attention on the acting and push along the drama. The costumes were exquisite, with everyone looking extremely stylish.
Director Richard Eyre gave us a lean, taut production. The dialogue zipped along, giving the heartfelt moments (such as discovering the opposite sex, the realisation that work was not all it was cracked up to be and the sacrifices within marriage and in bringing up a family) more time to breathe and have the impact they deserved. But the most potent moment was surely the ending which was deeply affecting due to a commendably deft, light touch.
The story of interesting lives well lived; most certainly. But more than that, it’s an exploration of navigating the journey of life and those key relationships within it – and that’s what makes it such a fascinating, enjoyable watch as we recognise our own experiences on the stage. That’s not even mentioning the pleasure of all that incredible acting done so well. A crowdpleaser of a show, I have no hesitation in highly recommending it to you.