A Voyage round my Father

John Mortimer
Robert Fox, Jonathan Church Theatre Productions and Theatre Royal Bath
Festival Theatre, Malvern

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Jack Bardoe (son), Rupert Everett (father) and ensemble Credit: Manuel Harlan
Julian Wadham (Headmaster) Credit: Manuel Harlan
Rupert Everett (father) and Allegra Marland (Elizabeth) Credit: Manuel Harlan
Allegra Marland (Iris) and Jack Bardoe (son) Credit: Manuel Harlan
Calum Finlay (Reigate) Credit: Manuel Harlan

"Do you think no-one minds about your father?" wife Elizabeth demands about the outspoken, grouchy, acerbic subject of John Mortimer's autobiographical play. There is the nub of what drew great actors Laurence Olivier, Derek Jacobi and now Rupert Everett to this complicated character and which fuels an audience’s ambivalence toward him.

It is an affectionate portrait of his fellow barrister father by the son now more famous for the creation of another rumbustious scion of the Bailey, Rumpole. The irascible veteran—the father, although it could apply to either of the others—was as likely at the dinner table to burst into Shakespeare as to talk about sex or the evolution of the horse, sending out words like "soldiers into the darkness" as he did in the day job in the divorce courts.

It takes his daughter-in-law, Allegra Marland’s Elizabeth—codename for the writer Mortimer’s first wife Penelope—to challenge all this, just as she is the only one to refer to the old man’s blindness. Here is a man who can master any brief, argue any case, but a master of perverse pontification that conceals an absence of any deep conviction beyond his own amusement.

And it is to the credit of Mortimer Minor and his respect for truth that we see him, played by Jack Bardoe, becoming more like his father in his ways.

Everett, eyes staring blindly, is at his best, as is the play, in the brief court scenes, demonstrating how and how not to cross-examine a witness, a sort-of beginners’ guide to the Rumpole technique.

Eleanor David is the long-suffering ‘More toast dear?’ wife of the choleric father and Julian Wadham the hapless, ridiculous headmaster of the son’s school, with sage advice on avoiding that unmentionable boys' public school malady by never accepting unsolicited cake.

Bob Crowley’s set of simple screens implies the extensive, leafy garden in which the father wages constant war against earwigs on behalf of the dahlias. Perhaps, like his son in real life, he felt better after all on the side of the defence.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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