Jeremy Corbyn, look away: this posh father-and-son show is fun provided you have a high tolerance for old Etonians
This doesn’t feel quite the right moment, somehow, to re-indulge the louche exploits and affected indifferences of a couple of old Etonians. But there’s an inevitability to this stage version of racing correspondent Roger Mortimer’s letters to his wayward son Charlie (whom he nicknames ‘Lupin’ after the disreputable son in ‘Diary of a Nobody’).
A hit, natch, on Radio 4’s Book At Bedtime, the original is like a posh English version of ‘Shit My Dad Says’ with flickers of PJ Wodehouse, spanning 24 years from Charlie’s expulsion from Eton. Roger and Charlie are played by real-life father and son James and Jack Fox, and there’s an affectionate ease to their interaction and a double poignancy to their final embrace. In Michael Simkins’ consciously nostalgic adaptation, Charlie dangles his Cons over Roger’s old writing desk in a dusty attic, and drags his father’s curmudgeonly ghost from the crossword to help bring the letters to life.
Simkins has filled in the detail of Charlie’s own drink and drug-dominated life history. But by and large the repository for Mortimer Sr’s wit becomes a skit-heavy showcase for Fox Sr’s comic talents. As Roger settles into a boozily loquacious mood as cosily moneyed as his red chord trousers, James Fox conjures army officers, Sotheby’s auctioneers, a prostitute who is ‘approaching 50… from the wrong direction’ and the 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.
Puppyish in his first big stage role, Jack Fox struggles to match his father’s timing. Try to have a good time without making a fool or a shit of yourself,’ runs Roger’s life advice to his son. In this show’s own terms, job done. But those who prefer a witty phrase when it isn’t being turned at the expense of, say, women and black people, might prefer to throw the dustsheet back over that desk.
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