The Life I Lead: high-spirited insight into a childhood memory

This article was commissioned by The Upcoming, where it appeared for the first time.

Photo credit: Piers Foley
Old and new generations will hardly forget one of the first and most iconic of classic Disney movies: Mary Poppins. The stern yet finally redeemed anti-hero of the film, Mr Banks, had the moustachioed face of David Tomlinson. The man, despite a prolific career in theatre and cinema, left a mark in history and in the hearts of audiences of every age, principally for that one role – and possibly also for Professor Browne in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Kettle’s new play takes theatregoers behind the scenes for a look at the untold story, the real-life events of the actor that couldn’t be broadcast. The difficult beginning on stage, the awkward silences with the father, the strange diagnosis given by the hospital for his son, the warm friendship with Walt Disney: everything rolls smoothly in this moving one-man show.

Miles Jupp wears many hats, in addition to the typical bowler of Tomlinson, complete with all the little fingers tricks and hops that the actor performed when taking it on and off. There are fewer impersonations in the first part of the show, but in the second act more dialogue allows the fictitious characters to be better sustained. The very beginning, which is an introductory summary of the main elements of Tomlinson’s life, feels a bit confused and goes on too long before the actual narration – the “look back”, from 1930 – starts. The various episodes then flow well, including memories of America and the war.

Noteworthy work has been done on the script to give the tragic and more difficult moments a softer tone. Drama, in various forms, has been present in Tomlinson’s life, and it has inevitably shaped his sensitive attitude. The way Kettle writes about it doesn’t highlight the heaviness, rather the courage and the strength of the man to carry on and find a way to deal with it.

The Magritte-inspired set design removes the actor from any specific context, putting him in a sort of environment all by himself in order that he may enter the realm of the surreal. Jupp delivers a very good performance, keeping up the moderate pace with jokes and that quintessentially British poised humour.

The Life I Lead is a high-spirited insight into Tomlinson’s life, exploring the hidden existence behind the shared childhood memory and presenting a humanity worth discovering.

- Read the article on The Upcoming -

Dates: 16-21 September 2019
Venue: Wyndham’s Theatre, as part of the UK tour