The Life I Lead at Park Theatre
“What is it and when does it start?” David Tomlinson (Miles Jupp) asks the bemused audience. He has just entered the stage, animating with his presence what was a beautifully simple set. At the centre is a door, painted white and with the shape of a bowler-hat-wearing man cut out of it. Having opened the door, the performer puts his foot in the shape and then his arm, he eventually walks through.
While it might not have been intended this way, it’s hard to resist seeing this as a metaphor for the whole show. David Tomlinson, known for playing the stereotypical English gent in films like Mary Poppins, emerges from the rather limited picture we have of him as a man with a complex and interesting life. The set is undeniably theatrical with its minimal props and makeshift dressing room, but Jupp embraces this. He draws our attention to it and in turn brings Tomlinson to life. For those who know and love Tomlinson, a man who is an icon of so many people’s childhoods, this play will always be a must-see. Writer James Kettle says he wrote the role for Jupp because he was struck by the similarities between the two actors, and as Jupp takes to the stage several people whisper “he looks just like him”. Who can resist the treat of watching a much-loved actor return to life on stage? But The Life I Lead is not just for those who love Tomlinson; even those who know little, if anything, about him or the films he has been in, will find the story of his life fascinating.
A one-man show is not easy to pull off, but Miles Jupp performs superbly. What this piece really delivers on is storytelling, perhaps it is a bit longer than necessary, but the audience is never bored. In fact, the most gripping moments are at points where the narrative takes a turn for the worse; often at these times the lighting darkens only to abruptly return to a warm glow as the performer recounts a joke or anecdote. The show is all about connections, which is why it works. At the heart of the play is the story of fathers and sons. Tomlinson’s own father had been leading a double life, with two separate households, one in London and the other in Folkestone, while his own son, Willy, was one of the first children to be diagnosed with autism. But perhaps the most important connection is with the audience. When Jupp asks, “Are you here for me or am I here for you?” it reminds us that we are part of the actor’s story too. Without us he would have no one there to listen.
Photo: Piers Foley
The Life I Lead is at Park Theatre from 18th until 30th March 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for The Life I Lead here: