Dear Lupin

Roger Mortimer and Charlie Mortimer, Adapted for the Stage by Michael Simkins
Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue

James Fox (Roger Mortimer) and Jack Fox (Charlie Mortimer) Credit: Manuel Harlan
James Fox (Roger Mortimer) Credit: Manuel Harlan
Jack Fox (Charlie Mortimer) Credit: Manuel Harlan

It was probably not the intention of anybody involved in this production but Dear Lupin could realistically be viewed as a portrait of the British aristocracy in sad decline.

It is more likely that the creative team set out to create a lightweight, light-hearted comedy creating a vehicle for a brace of theatrical Foxes, while at the same time inducing laughter at the antics of the characters on stage.

For those that do not immediately get the cultural reference, the hapless wastrel Charlie Mortimer was viewed by his father Roger as akin to Mr Pooter's son in that incomparable comic novel Diary of a Nobody, penned by a pair of Victorian era actors George and Weedon Grossmith. Ironically, another actor, Michael Simkins has adapted the bestselling book for the stage.

Nobody could deny that the Mortimers are real characters, which must be the reason why their book has proved so popular. Roger, given dotty charm by James Fox, was a near-legendary horse racing correspondent in the post-war years.

His back-story is delivered at great speed through the medium of an amusing, cod version of Mastermind in which he is his own special subject. By the end of the breathless catechism, viewers will have effortlessly taken on board a vast amount of biographical information and concluded that this fellow was decent enough, if hardly a figure of earthshattering importance.

By comparison, young Charlie played by James’s son Jack Fox is the bad egg that every family dreads. After being sacked from Eton, the self-confessed juvenile delinquent's sole aim seems to be to fritter away his life in a welter of drug and alcohol addiction, moving swiftly from job to job, having little to show for his efforts bar a criminal conviction and cheeky smile.

Even his attempt to follow proud dad into the Coldstream Guards and earn a degree of respectability failed at the last hurdle.

Only when AIDS came calling on the well-spoken, gay hedonist (and many of his friends) did Charlie even consider changing his ways.

The strange link between father and son was a series of over 100 letters covering the period from early days in Eton in the 1960s to Roger's death at the age of 80 some 30 years later.

They combine wit, affection and a modicum of wisdom, together demonstrating that, if nothing else, the father was remarkably patient with his dissolute offspring.

At their best, the letters, and by extension the show, contain some cracking jokes amidst a great deal of rather tasteless, politically incorrect banter that feels as dated as the social references.

They also feature what many might feel is rather offensive treatment of the butt of many jokes. That was the mother/wife known as Nidnod, who if this play to be believed can only have had an IQ struggling to reach double figures.

Michael Simkins and director Philip Franks do a serviceable job of turning a series of sometimes funny letters into a play with a clever set and busy soundscape but the material does not easily lend itself to presentation on a West End stage.

Ultimately, viewers' enthusiasm for this two-hour-long dialogue between the anachronistic young toff and his even more patrician dead dad is likely to be engendered by a fondness for their book, a love of horseracing or possibly nostalgia for the long gone days when England ruled the waves.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher