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Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell

  • Theatre, Immersive
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, Coach and Horses, 2023
Photo: Tom Howard

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Keith Waterhouse’s classic one-man show about boozy Soho legend Bernard is given a neat immersive staging

There’s immersive theatre, and then there’s staging a classic play in the very room it was written about. The current run of Keith Waterhouse’s 1989 classic does just that, placing the titular Jeffrey Bernard in his own personal purgatory, the Coach and Horses pub on Soho’s Greek Street. Punchdrunk could never reach such giddy and on-the-nose locational highs.

Since Peter O’Toole’s definitive original turn as the booze-sodden journalist, inveterate gambler and squiffy raconteur at the nearby Apollo Theatre, Tom Conti, John Hurt and Dennis Waterman have all had a swig from Bernard’s vodka bottle, but lately it's been down to Robert Bathurst to don the crumpled linen blazer. This current one-man run is a retread of a 2019 revival with the ‘Cold Feet’ star, which – 30 years after the play’s debut, and almost 20 after the death of Bernard in 1997 – finally took it to the pub it was set in.

Though the Coach and Horses has to turf out its regular drinkers, this 55-minute version has slightly more approachable stage times than a few years back, with performances at 8pm and 10pm, rather than the midnight performance which was followed by a council-approved lock-in until the wee small hours.

Looking around, however, you wouldn’t notice anything different from your average Monday night crowd. Most people have a Guinness in hand, and, if anything, it’s actually easier than usual to get a table at this perennially popular Soho boozer. 

The controlled chaos of James Hillier’s production begins when Bathurst’s louche Bernard staggers into the room. The show’s conceit is by now well-known; it’s 5am and the frequently absent author of The Spectator’s ‘Low Life’ column has woken up after passing out in the bogs following yet another heavy session. 

One of the joys of seeing the play in a defiantly un-soundproofed pub is the noise from the street outside. Honks of horns, police sirens, and ABBA being blasted from a tuk tuk soundsystem all creep into the mix, as Bathurst slurs through what he remembers of his four ex-wives, horse racing, acquaintances called things like ‘no-knickers Joyce’ and days wasted at the French House and Colony Room. He is at once a proud poster-boy for the libertarian urge to ruin your own body and mind and to hell with the consequences, but also a deeply troubling look at the disease of alcoholism. Is ‘Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell” painfully funny, or harrowingly sad? Brilliantly, it’s a lot of both. 

Leonie Cooper
Written by
Leonie Cooper


£20-£45. Runs 55min
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