Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell
Dean Taylor Productions
Avenham Park Pavilion, Preston
After 10 years of touring summer Shakespeares around the region, this company opts this year for something completely different.
Except that there is something of the Falstaff character about the title role in Keith Waterhouse’s funny and poignant tribute to his drinking pal and fellow scribe, Jeffrey Bernard.
He was the legendary denizen of Soho’s Coach & Horses who occasionally deigned to write a weekly column, famously described as “a suicide note in weekly instalments”. When a deadline was missed the magazine published ‘Jeffery Bernard Is Unwell’ by way of terse explanation.
Like Falstaff he was an unrepentant womanising drinker and gambler, also guilty—by his own admission—of “sloth, envy and self pity”.
Not someone you might instantly warm to...
The trick of his pal’s play then is to make him appear more human, and humane, than all the characters that orbit around his uncertain path through life. Wives, landlords, medics and the judiciary all appear as broad caricatures.
It is a ploy clearly understood in this production, and in Dean Taylor’s portrayal of the central role. He’s following in the footsteps of the likes of Peter O’Toole, Tom Conti and James Bolam, so no pressure, and none apparent.
Taylor easily affects the louche and languid air of a man who downs a bottle of early-morning vodka while he waits for Norman the landlord to let him out of the pub where he has been inadvertently locked in all night. As dawn rises, his life flashes before him, and us, in a series of strip cartoon incidents, featuring characters supplied by Tim Scragg, Rebecca Charnley, Miriam Edwards and Tony Bond. The latter tends to rush his punchlines a little, but otherwise these are four fully supportive performances.
It would be a shame, particularly, if Charnley’s forthcoming entry on a Human Resources Graduate Programme was to be professional acting’s loss.
Jeffrey would have been well upset!
Reviewer: David Upton