The Life I Lead

6 February - 7 April 2019

James Kettle | Birmingham Rep | Directed by Didi Hopkins and Selina Cadell

Miles Jupp delivers a crisp and poised performance in this one man show about the life of Mary Poppins actor David Tomlinson.

A play about the life of actor David Tomlinson, most famed for his performance as the irritable bank manager and stern but loving father Mr Banks in Mary Poppins, doesn't sound like the stuff of theatre magic. In the hands of writer James Kettle and actor Miles Jupp, however, it becomes something very special. A quietly powerful and gently charming evening of storytelling.

Beautifully structured, it meanders like a fireside anecdote; flashing forwards and backwards in time, covering marriage, family and film. A complex and rich life tapestry is woven as the actor behind Mr Banks slowly takes shape and we get to know, and love, the man behind the character as much as the character himself. James Kettle's script delights in the playful, rich eloquence for which Tomlinson became famous playing English gents.

Miles Jupp (Radio 4’s The News Quiz, Mock The Week, Rev, The Durrells) brings charm and timeless presence to the role of this dapper English gent. At times, he seems to morph into the man himself, capturing the facial expressions, gait and mannerisms of Tomlinson perfectly. He has a very natural rapport with the audience and brought the Tomlinson twinkle to proceedings, charming within seconds. It's a controlled and powerful performance. Restrained yet full of pathos.

Complex family relationships sit at the heart of this piece, which gently explores the torn warmth and distance between actor and father. Known by the initials CST rather that ‘Dad’, Tomlinson’s father was a remote eccentric at best, and a double-life-leading, cold and forbidding patriarch at worst. Jupp brings both son and father vividly to life, alongside a host of other characters from judge to boarding house landlady.

The set, a cloudscape with a bowler-hatted silhouette cut from a white door, evokes a heavenly space of reflection and warmth. It allows for a calm performance in which language is all. Jupp’s clipped, precise delivery captures the quintessential Englishman with generosity and warmth.

I'm sure that ‘charming’ is an overused adjective to describe this show but that is precisely what it is. A charming story about a charming man performed by a charming actor. It is, as Tomlinson puts it himself, “like shaking hands with a childhood memory.” A beautifully crafted show which lifts the lid on an actor we all have a deep and nostalgic fondness for.

The Life I Lead is touring until 7th April 2019

The Life I Lead