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A Voyage Round My Father at Richmond Theatre

This superb play has ‘must-see’ written all over it. Written by one of our greatest writers, John Mortimer, directed by the esteemed director Richard Eyre, and starring acting royalty Rupert Everett, A Voyage Round My Father is a heady mix of nostalgia, Englishness, snobbery and satire. Richmond Theatre was packed last night and I’m certain this will transfer to the West End.

The play has so much to offer. It encompasses the whole range of human emotions from tragedy to comedy, bathos to pathos, wit and wisdom, satire and compassion all human life is here. It’s a classic for a reason. John Mortimer has written a memoir of his father that both captures the psychological reality of his father and the social history of upper-class England in the twentieth century. His father was a barrister and so throughout his life, John had a unique insight into England and the English. Bringing together the two worlds of law and literature set John Mortimer on the path to a brilliant double career; barrister and writer. A Voyage Round My Father is the crystallisation of that double inheritance. It’s a spell-binding account of a family, a social class and English society that deserves the widest possible audience. Entertaining, enthralling and exhilarating this is a play to savour.

A Voyage Round My Father: Zena Carswell and Heather Bleasdale. ©MH
A Voyage Round My Father: Zena Carswell and Heather Bleasdale. ©MH

At the heart of the play is John Mortimer’s father exquisitely realised by Rupert Everett. (Another Country, 1981. Dance with a Stranger, 1985). He is outstanding. One of the truly great performances. His achievement is the capacity to show both the monstrous selfishness of a bully and a brute but simultaneously the wit, humour and comic brilliance of a charismatic alpha male. Full of devastating put-downs and memorable one-liners he peppers his monologues with quotations from the Bible, the classics, Shakespeare, and snatches of music hall songs – he will sing “Pretty Polly Perkins from Paddington Green” at the drop of a hat. Undoubtedly a brilliantly successful barrister he is impossible to live with. He routinely humiliates and torments his wife (Eleanor David, wonderfully understated) and his only son (Jack Bardoe). But we never lose sympathy with him. He is complicated, conflicted and cultured. It’s this combination of contraries that makes him endlessly fascinating. Somewhere between King Lear and Basil Fawlty. The finale is profoundly moving.

A Voyage Round My Father is a double autobiography, John Mortimer writing about both his father and himself. His self-portrait is like a Rembrandt in words. Jack Bardoe brings him vividly to life in an outstanding performance ranging from school boy to married family man. The scenes at his prep school are as funny as anything in Evelyn Waugh’s – clearly a great influence on Mortimer, remember Brideshead Revisited for ITV – Decline and Fall. Julian Wadham as the Headmaster warning the boys about the dangers, in hilariously euphemisms, of masturbation and buggery is sidesplittingly funny. The scenes satirising the law are Dickensian. “Thank god for adultery,” shouts Jack as he waves his cheque for fifteen guineas in the air. Finally, there is the house and garden. Based on a real house, in the Buckinghamshire village of Turville, built by John Mortimer’s father which John inherited and in which he lived all 85 years of his life, this provides the setting for the most moving and memorable scenes in the play. The superb set designed by Bob Crowley recreates the garden much as the current Hockney exhibition does in King’s Cross. The poignancy and pathos of these garden scenes match anything in Chekhov, E M Forster’s Howard’s End, or Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party.

5 Star Rating

Review by John O’Brien

Growing up in the shadow of a brilliant and eccentric barrister, a man whose tea-time conversation could take in music hall, adultery, evolution, the ridiculous inconvenience of sex, Shakespeare, and the importance of avoiding anything heroic in wartime, the son continually yearns for his father’s love and respect.

In shining a light on this delicate relationship between a young man and his father who adored his garden and hated visitors, and whose blindness was never mentioned, A Voyage Round My Father introduces us to a gallery of unforgettable and often hilarious characters.

John Mortimer was a novelist, playwright and a barrister in his own right, renowned for his political dramas and creator of Rumpole of The Bailey.

Rupert Everett’s leading roles have included the multi-award-winning film My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Importance of Being Earnest, An Ideal Husband, Dance With A Stranger and The Happy Prince. His stage roles have included Blithe Spirit on Broadway, Pygmalion and The Judas Kiss in the West End and Uncle Vanya in the Theatre Royal Bath Summer Season.

Julian Wadham starred with Rupert Everett and Kenneth Branagh in the original West End production of Another Country. His extensive screen career has included roles in The Madness of King George, The English Patient, Victoria & Abdul and Downton Abbey, with numerous stage appearances with the National Theatre and the Royal Court.

The cast also includes Eleanor David (Topsy Turvy, The Borgias), Jack Bardoe (Belgravia, Screw), Allegra Marland (The Crown), John Dougall (Tommies, The War of the Roses) and Heather Bleasdale (Vera, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) with Richard Hodder, Calum Finlay and Zena Carswell.

A Voyage Round My Father
Richmond Theatre
Tue 10 Oct – Sat 14 Oct 2023

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  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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