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A CurtainUp London Review
I call this comedy bitter sweet because Mortimer junior would be the despair of most parents. Withdrawn from Eton, England's most expensive and foremost public school and failing to achieve even the first qualification, taken at 15, in Maths, the boy spirals down on a road strewn with drugs and unconventionality. The play recounts his scrapes and escapades.
What makes Dear Lupin exceptional is the tolerance and humour of the elder Mortimer as he patiently tries to stop his son losing his footing on the path of life. The nicknames he gives to all his family are endearing but maybe also annoying as Louise his younger daughter is called Lumpy. His wife is referred to as Nidnod, she with the wig askew and a partiality for a drink or three. Lupin comes about after the name of the disastrous son of Mr Pooter in George and Weedon Grossmith's Victorian spoof, The Diary of A Nobody.
For a double hander, the direction also infuses variety as both actors act out other characters with the aid of a selection of props found onstage in Adrian Linford's jumbled and detailed set. The play opens with a mock version of the Mastermind televised quiz to set up the dramatis personae. We cut from Charles' birth to 1967 when he is at Eton and both men dance to the famous Eton Boating Song.
Charlie Mortimer's chequered career from a dalliance with drugs and resulting liver disease to a gay lifestyle and HIV would bring the most tolerant parent to his knees but Roger Mortimer views all through glasses tinted with humanity and good common sense, without ever resorting to exasperation or berating the boy for his shortcomings. We see Charlie's flirtation with a gap style life, driving across Europe, dabbling in antiques and joining the army as a squaddie, after a conviction for possession of cannabis and a weapon, puts paid to officer cadet entry. Is the father in denial about his son's misdemeanours or does he truly love his son? It is good to know that Charlie is now 73 outliving all expectation!
Michael Simkins' adaptation has plenty of physicality in the staging because, as an actor - writer, he knows what is needed for the audience not to tire of two characters. We see elder Fox in a cameo of General Montgomery, rescuing Charlie and another schoolboy, Monty's godson, from being sacked at Eton. This after being caught making a trip to a elderly prostitute (again James Fox). Philip Franks directs what I assume must be a happy company and short of theatrical ego.
James Fox's kaleidoscope of multiple characters remind how great an actor this elder Fox is. Jack Fox is still a fledgling actor but this is a creditable and promising performance. The fact that both actors are father and son brings a special chemistry to their performance.
I find it rather sad that the advent of email and text messaging has reduced the contents of my letter box to franked mail, bills, catalogues and circulars and long for the delight of opening a hand written letter. The three books by Roger Mortimer and his children, the best selling Dear Lupin, and Dearest Jane and Dear Lumpy, are a glimpse of the bygone age of letter writing with wit by an English eccentric and a pleasure with which to while away the hours.
I suspect many who have seen the play will want to relive it by reading the book.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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