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Mr and Mrs Nobody at Jermyn Street Theatre | Review

The funniest book in the World” was how Evelyn Waugh described “The Diary of a Nobody“, the famous Victorian novel by George and Weedon Grossmith, that many have heard of but few have read! Keith Waterhouse’s 1980s adaptation is just as amusing, with many ‘laugh out loud’ scenes; just what is needed after 16 months of Pandemic!!

Miranda Foster (Carrie Pooter) and Edward Baker-Duly (Charles Pooter) in Mr and Mrs Nobody at Footprints Festival, Jermyn Street Theatre. Photo by Steve Gregson.
Miranda Foster (Carrie Pooter) and Edward Baker-Duly (Charles Pooter) in Mr and Mrs Nobody at Footprints Festival, Jermyn Street Theatre. Photo by Steve Gregson.

George Grossmith, the ‘principal comedian’ in the original productions of most of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas at the Savoy Theatre, and his artist brother Weedon, wrote them in 26 instalments for “Punch” starting in 1888. They were published as a novel in 1892, but did not become really popular until about 1910, since when “The Diary of a Nobody” has never been out of print.

Keith Waterhouse (Billy Liar, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell) adapted the diary into a two-handed play in the 1980s. It is now being revived by the ever imaginative Tom Littler at the even more pocket-sized than usual Jermyn Street Theatre (at present seating less than 30 because of social distancing) until 31 July and is well worth catching if you can get a ticket!

Charles Pooter (Edward Baker-Duly) thinks he is a model Victorian husband. He doesn’t drink too much, except champagne which makes him ill, and has an eye for decoration, painting everything in sight bright red, including the flower pots in the garden! However, he prevaricates over tasks such as mending sash cords and refuses to spend money ‘unnecessarily’! This role is beautifully and hilariously portrayed, in a typically British, understated way, and all the funnier for that. Baker-Duly’s rendition of the Major General’s patter song from The Pirates of Penzance, to which he does not know the words, is one of the many highlights of the evening.

Miranda Foster, as his wife Carrie Pooter, also excels at singing: her performance of Bishop’s “Little Mocking Bird” and her piano accompaniment of the above mentioned Major General’s song to which she does not have the music are two of the stand-out moments of the evening which had the audience spontaneously cheering: unfortunately an encore was denied!

Foster’s embodiment of Mrs Pooter is very subtle; she knows how to ‘get round’ her husband, even though it may take a long time and involve her serving rancid food all summer to try to prove that she needs an icebox!

Unfortunately, we rarely meet their son Lupin, on whom they dote, who seems to spend much/all of the day in bed recovering from the night before! Likewise other characters such as Mr Gowing, Mr Cummings and Pooter’s boss Mr Perkupp!

The play is inventively directed by Gabriella Bird, even if at times it seems a tad under-rehearsed, but in truth, those few moments actually make the evening more amusing. A simple and easy to use set, using as much space as Jermyn Street will allow, was designed by Louie Whitemore, and the superb sound effects, especially those of steam trains stopping at the “semaphore signal” just outside the back door were some of the most inventive and hilarious moments of the evening and for which Tom Attwood must take full credit.

Surely this relaxing, feel-good production must be the funniest play in London – I came away, still chuckling. VERY strongly recommended, whether or not you have read the novel!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

Charles Pooter is a model Victorian husband, and he knows it. He doesn’t (usually) drink too much, he possesses a keen eye for interior decoration, and he tries his hardest to keep his son Lupin out of trouble. But what does his wife Carrie really think of him? From seaside holidays to disastrous dinner parties, Mr and Mrs Nobody is a blissfully funny portrait of a marriage.

The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith is a much-loved comic novel. Keith Waterhouse is known for plays and films including Billy Liar and Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. Gabriella Bird is a Creative Associate at Jermyn Street Theatre. Miranda Foster (Hamlet, Globe to Globe World Tour; Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s Globe) and Edward Baker-Duly (The Good Wife, CBS; South Pacific, National Theatre) star.

Mr and Mrs Nobody
BY KEITH WATERHOUSE.
BASED ON THE NOVEL BY GEORGE AND WEEDON GROSSMITH.
DIRECTED BY GABRIELLA BIRD.
https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/

Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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