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A CurtainUp London Review
The Diary of a Nobody
Mary Franklin has adapted the novel for the stage with its myriad cast of characters being played by just four male actors. The adaptation is fairly loose, the first outing of Rough Haired Pointer having been at the White Bear in Kennington three years ago. She originally had six actors including at least one woman but two were lost on transfer to the Kings Head, probably to do with the need for an Equity wage (see below).
Christopher Hone's pleasing drawn design is monochrome with details outlined in black, the men wearing white suits that look as if they are made out of paper and Pooter's tie is certainly cardboard. This serves to underline the two dimensional quality of these caricature like people. The design reflects the drawings from the original novel. As much of the script is narration, actors stand under large lampshades which light up when they are speaking and the lighting designer also highlights parts of the stage wall to show the changing years.
The First Act sadly falls terribly flat as even the cast do not appear to be having an amusing time with pauses for laughter which didn't come. The jokes fail not helped by Charles Pooter's terrible puns, which are only appreciated by his long-suffering wife Carrie (Jordan Mallory-Skinner). Is painting the bath red really that funny? In the play within the play, a visit to the King's Head Theatre by the Pooters disappoints as the actor impersonates the overly long wielding of the charity bucket, a device which the modern day King's Head uses to occupy the Equity moral high ground and pay Equity acceptable wages, without raising its ticket price. Many theatres on the Fringe today pay with a share of the profits to their actors not out of meanness but of necessity. Having just heard a member of the King's Head staff before the play, urge us to donate or buy merchandised tote bags or a mug, it is really a pain to hear it all over again in the 1883 context.
Besides the supposedly free theatre visit, the Pooters are asked to the Mansion House Ball only to discover that what should have been a shining light in the society calendar, is inhabited by common tradesfolk. Here in the cab home Carrie deviates from her usual support to take her husband to task for his behaviour.
I did stay out of duty for the Second Act, where thankfully the cast elicited a few laughs, starting with a visit to Peckham, where an itinerant tradesman was saying "Get your knives and drugs here!" - not exactly one of the Grossmiths' lines but one which made me laugh out loud. The second half takes on a more Pythonesque stance and it is possible to appreciate the versatility of the actors switching into many different roles using voice and gesture alone.
It is the arrival of Pooter's schoolfriend Teddy (Geordie Wright) which enlivens the proceedings and a delightful description of a characters where the actor (Loz Keystone) wears a picture frame as he attempts to comply with the various descriptions of his appearance and personality. The demolition of the cardboard set piano might have been an accident but I'd advise the director to keep it in the show.
I particularly liked Jordan Mallory as Carrie, a sensitive portrayal of Charles' devoted wife but it is hard to believe that the incongruous Geordie Wright as the maid Sarah, all Six feet Three or Four of him and bearded, with a white cotton mob cap is the female household servant. The cast work hard but the show is overall a firework that doesn't ignite and I couldn't advise anyone to approach it.
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The Diary of a Nobody
Written by Mary Franklin after George and Weedon Grossmith's novel
Directed by Mary Franklin
Starring: Jake Curran, Jordan Mallory-Skinner, Loz Keystone, Geordie Wright
Design: Christopher Hone
Lighting Design: Clancy Flynn
Sound Design: Jordan Mallory-Skinner
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7226 4443
Booking to 18th November 2017
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 2nd November 2017 performance at the Kings Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street London N1 1QN (Tube: Angel)
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