A Voyage Round My Father at Richmond Theatre
A Voyage Round My Father arrives at the resplendent Richmond Theatre following a run at Theatre Royal Bath. John Mortimer’s autobiographical play began life in sketch form for radio back in 1963. The 1971 stage adaptation starred Alec Guinness and an 80s television incarnation saw Laurence Olivier in the eponymous role. Derek Jacobi appeared in London’s most recent revival in 2006. The wealth of talent lured in by both the play and the character of the father suggests it is one of those roles that actors yearn to stick their teeth into. Now it is over to Rupert Everett to conjure his own interpretation of the character in this new production affectionately directed by Mortimer’s friend Richard Eyre.
Mortimer’s memory play opens in the 1920s. While pruning a tree in his beloved garden, Father (as he is named in the script) suffers a head injury which renders him blind. Being of the traditional stiff-upper-lip mentality whereby stoicism was a way of life for the English, the family never discuss the accident or even acknowledge his blindness. The son, portrayed endearingly by Jack Bardoe, guides us through his boarding school years and into adolescence. Wanting to be a writer, he is instead encouraged to follow his father’s footsteps into law. Indeed, the shadow of his father looms over his son throughout his life. The need for approval is always there and that hunger for love, which was never imparted in a nurturing manner – his parents always referred to him as “the boy” – remains even when he has children of his own. Parental relationships are fascinatingly complex and the dynamic between father and son is the anchor of the play. Acting choices, however, unmoor it somewhat. Everett’s depiction slightly shies away from the fiery rage of previous interpretations, replacing it with a contained anger that occasionally bubbles to the surface but easily morphs into overt vulnerability.
While it might be a softer version of the character, Everett makes for an engrossing watch and ensures he remains complex and multi-faceted rather than veering too much towards caricature, although the script takes us dangerously close. The actor is buoyed by the remaining cast. Julian Wadham prompts a smattering of laughs as the headmaster and seamlessly switches into various other roles. Eleanor David convinces as the subservient wife and mother, who sacrifices her own interests to care for her husband, always putting him first. David exhibits excellent comic timing and enjoys an amusing back-and-forth with Everett despite her not having a tremendous amount to work with. It is unfortunate that many of the supporting characters are underwritten but the unified and committed ensemble inject as much as possible into their performances.
This is a gentle two hours that pootles along to the quiet melody of Mortimer’s writing. Nostalgia-inducing, Eyre’s revival wraps around us like something of a comfort blanket. A safe, pedestrian production, yes, but for its intended audience it is successful in showcasing Englishness in all its eccentricities and painting a picture of a bygone era when, in many ways, the world was so much simpler. In 2023, it does feel detached from our times and is unlikely to steer younger audiences to the work of Mortimer. Indeed, one will question whether a revival is even justified. Mellowly meandering, this wistful voyage does however offer us some easy escapism, light humour and a sense of reprieve from the current storm we find ourselves under.
Images: Manuel Harlan
A Voyage Round My Father is at Richmond Theatre from 10th until 14th October 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.