REVIEW: The Life I Lead – A poignant & humorous homage to an iconic actor, outstandingly delivered by Miles Jupp

The Life I Lead – Miles Jupp – Photo Credit: Piers Foley

Venue: Wyndham’s Theatre, London

Performance Date: 18 September 2019

Reviewer: Alexia Anderson

Rating: ★★★★

As writer James Kettle rightly says, David Tomlinson is “an icon of our childhoods”. Famed for his role as Mr Banks in Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins and Professor Browne in the household favourite Bedknobs & Broomsticks, he has brought great magic to countless children and created fond memories for many. Through his lovable, bumbling characters, he embodies the quintessentially British mannerisms that are so loved and famed across the globe. Walt Disney himself agreed and once warmly said to Tomlinson, “when I think of an Englishman, I picture you”.

The Life I Lead is a delightfully sensitive account and intimate window into Tomlinson’s life. His relationships with his Napoleon-admiring, roast beef-loving, unloving father and his seemingly introverted third son, Willy, are at the forefront of conversation. His father was incredibly unaffectionate towards him and his mother had a long list of fictitious illnesses which she invented in the hope it would illicit more attention and love from her husband. Tragedy struck on more than one occasion and his life certainly has a gripping story to tell.

The little-known facts of Tomlinson’s life, snippets of his inner-most emotions and action-packed career journey create a gripping narrative. The playful anecdotes bring a light-hearted tone to the play and also on occasion, the shock factor. To find out that Mr Banks’ moustache in Mary Poppins was fake is quite the life-changer…

Actor and comedian Miles Jupp leads the one-man show with great skill and presence, transporting us to the most personal and fantastical times of the great actor’s life. His experience as a stand-up comedian no doubt aides the ease of which he performs with. He creates a close relationship with the audience with ease and his delivery and audience-directed conversation is a beautiful way of recounting his hilarious and touching stories. It feels like a wonderfully cosy night in with your best friend, reminiscing of all the peaks and troughs, highs and lows of life.

Jupp seamlessly goes from providing great joy and painful belly-laughs, to catching you off-guard, leaving you reflecting on how cruel and unfair life can be. His moving retelling of World War II anecdotes and complicated family life makes for an emotional show. The balance in which he simultaneously delivers humour and sadness when talking of life’s cruellest tricks is outstandingly measured and poignant.

The writing is heavily reliant on good old British humour. The jolly hockey sticks manner and delivery of the play is one step away from slapstick at times, however it never becomes farcical. Jupp manages character acting beautifully and brings the simple, yet effective, script to life.

The Life I Lead is Kettle’s first play and it’s highly likely that he will lend his name to many more successes. His script-writing is simple yet effective in its ability to conjure vivid visualisations. He uses famous lines from Tomlinson’s most well-known roles as a reference point and his witty one-liners and moving soliloquys make for a spellbinding watch.

There are no set changes in this two-act performance. The lighting and music are to the play as a paragraph is to writing. The lights dim or change to blue, as a keyboard and clarinet play, signifying a new stage of his story. He manages the limited, on-stage costume changes with humour and plays on his early-found audience rapport to pass this time effectively.  

The joyous partnership that is Miles Jupp and James Kettle has given wonderful insight into the fun, relatable life of an acting icon. Good humour and captivating narrative mixed with a dash of sentimental nostalgia makes for a greatly enjoyable play.

Runs until 21 September 2019

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