Marty Feldman is one of those names that seems to have been around the fringes of my memories for as long as I can remember. He used to appear on television when I was a kid – often on ‘Nationwide’ I seem to recall. I know he was a comedian with odd eyes but other than that, I really know little about him. However, Jeepers Creepers at the Leicester Square Theatre Lounge aims to change people’s knowledge of the comedy writer, actor, comedian and movie director.
Writer Robert Ross has taken his biography of Feldman as the starting point and produced three scenes from parts of his life. The first is when Marty (David Boyle) is a newly arrived Hollywood actor working on “Young Frankenstein” and is getting ready for a television chat show appearance, being – for want of a better word – briefed by his ambitious wife Lauretta (Rebecca Vaughan), who is trying to ensure that Marty doesn’t get too madcap and blow his chances for future Hollywood work. Lauretta seems to understand the studio system where executives will accept the English clown up to a certain point when suddenly all doors will be closed to him. For his part, Marty just wants to be Marty – wild, unpredictable and possibly with the odd screw loose,
The second scene takes place a few years later and really covers the effects of Marty’s success in the USA where – as he elegantly puts it – “success went to my crotch” as Hollywood ladies throw themselves at him and he makes no effort to resist, though he does always come home to Lauretta . Whilst Marty, as is his wont, makes jokes about the other women, we see Lauretta struggling between the daily betrayal and her love for this man. The final scene takes place in 1982 as Marty is working on a little known film Yellowheart and is stuck in a hotel in Mexico City with nobody but Lauretta to talk to and even then only by phone.
Jeepers Creepers on paper looks like it should be a really great play. Robert Ross is pretty much the expert on Marty Feldman and when you throw in Monty Python’s Terry Jones as a director then it has a lot going for it. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t really come across well on stage. By the end, I knew virtually nothing about Marty and his wife – except that they chain smoked and Marty drank too much. Considering that the first scene is set in 1974, an awful lot of detail about Marty’s previous, and highly successful life, as a writer and performer had to be either omitted or shoehorned in as a funny anecdote for Marty to tell lauretta whilst sitting on the bed. And this leads to problems of pacing and structure which distract the audience from the story. Whilst on structure, I can fully understand why the first scene (with its rather bizarre opening) and the last are included as they are pretty momentous times in Marty’s life but the middle scene just left me confused as to what part of his story it was trying to tell and why.
As far as the acting goes, David Boyle certainly looks the part and, in the opening and closing monologues really conveyed something of the essence of Marty which to remind the audience what a great comedian had been lost to the world at such a young age – only 48 when he passed. David also works very well with Rebecca Vaughan’s Lauretta and the two of them establish themselves as a believable couple very early in the play.
Overall then Jeepers Creepers fails to hit the spot in many ways. It neither told the audience that much about Marty nor, in my case, did it pique my interest enough to make me want to Google him and find out more – in fact I’m no longer worried that I haven’t seen ‘Young Frankenstein’. However, one thing that the show does have going for it, the marvelous music played before the start and during the interval – absolutely superb.
Review by Terry Eastham
‘Through the Eyes of Marty Feldman’
Directed by Monty Python’s Terry Jones
Written by Robert Ross
Starring David Boyle & Rebecca Vaughan
Having written some of the nation’s favourite comedy in The Army Game and Round the Horne, Marty Feldman suddenly found himself a star in his own right, with sketch show success for both the BBC and commercial television. Hollywood came a’knocking with the role of Igor (that’s pronounced Eye-Gor!) in Young Frankenstein, but while his ambitious wife Lauretta takes to the glamorous lifestyle with alacrity, can Marty come to terms with the burden of the fame he has always craved? Excess, depression, and the inevitable decline follow.
Surely laughter, and the love of a strong woman can conquer all, although the eternal conflict of the clown refuses to fade. Is he laughed with, or laughed at? Come and witness one of the most powerful and complex partnerships in comedy, through the unique gaze of one of the greatest: Marty Feldman.
Written by Marty’s best-selling biographer Robert Ross, and directed by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, Jeepers Creepers stars David Boyle (Being Sellers, The Fool Who Dared to Dream) and Rebecca Vaughan (Austen’s Women, I, Elizabeth).
29th January to 20th February 2016