‘A Voyage Round My Father’ started life as a series of three radio plays before becoming a stage play and a film. It was written by John Mortimer as an autobiographical exercise in an attempt to get to know the man who most influenced his life – his father.
The late playwright/barrister’s best friend, the legendary Richard Eyre, directs this latest version. One of the producers is Jonathan Church – another modern legend who has of late been breathing new life into such classics as ‘Singing In The Rain.’ There is an all-star cast headed up by a third theatrical legend, Rupert Everett.
Eyre’s approach is to be gentle – yes there are moments of passion and confrontation but nothing that sets the show on fire, which apparently happened, in the earlier Alec Guinness/Jeremy Brett Laurence Olivier/Alan Bates productions. I didn’t see them so I can’t compare but I guess same text / different interpretation.
Gentle – except for the moment when Father hits his head on a tree branch and goes blind, the bang and flash of light followed by darkness and his son’s narrative is spine tingling.
There is an excellent set from designer Bob Crowley which allows the action to move seamlessly from episode to episode through a long timeframe.
Everett is compelling as the Father, at times majestic and with the ability to let us see what he is thinking with a simple gesture or two. He captures being overbearing to his son without being abusive.
Jack Bardoe gives a powerful but restrained performance as the son, constantly wanting to reach out to his blind father, but never doing so. Son wants to be a writer but father wants him to follow him in law – turns out he did both very successfully.
Eleanor David plays father’s long suffering wife putting up with his foibles through his blind years and staying loyal till his death.
Allegra Marland plays son’s wife with a strong feminist lean. She is the only person in the proceedings who stands up to the blind protagonist, a fact that he gets as near to thanking her for as its possible without uttering the words.
There are a multitude of other parts played by a talented multitasking company covering the early, formative and productive years of Son’s life.
In reality son – or John Mortimer – enjoyed a very full and somewhat colourful existence, he was a passionate socialist, a defender of all things artistic, anti-censorship, bit of a philanderer and one of life’s ‘to die for’ dinner guests. He also of course wrote the script and so built the ship himself for his voyage.
To me this latest outing is polished and performed by a top-drawer company but lacks a bit of bite. I cared, but not enough and I learned much, but not enough. At one point his wife says the son is “Getting more like his father every day” – I would have liked to see that happening gradually not announced in the Son’s eulogy for his Father.
Those points aside, it is an immensely watchable journey through the decades.
A Voyage Round My Father runs at Malvern Theatres until Saturday, November 4. Click here for times, tickets and more information.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose Reviews