Andy Howells reviews the 2023 presentation of John Mortimer’s autobiographical play starring Rupert Everett, Jack Bardoe, Allegra Marland, Julian Wadham and Eleanor David.
John Mortimer’s A Voyage Round My Father, an autobiographical story of growing up in the shadow of a brilliant, but eccentric barrister, who is blinded when working in his beloved garden is a beautiful insight into another era.
In the current version of Mortimer’s play which originally debuted at the Greenwich Theatre in 1970, Rupert Everett is The Father, a man whose tea-time conversation wavers between a multitude of subjects from music hall and adultery to quoting poetry and advising the importance of avoiding anything heroic during wartime. Each conversation can be unpredictable, echoes of how The Father was before the blindness (itself a subject everyone avoids) can be accompanied by an angry tirade or elements of irritation. However, through the difficulty, The Father’s humour becomes more prominent as does an ability to tell a story while his well-meaning wife (Eleanor David) and son (Jack Bardoe) listen intently.
Meanwhile The Son (or “the Boy” as he is frequently referred) is honing his own unique talent for storytelling at school by embellishing his home life and embroidering a divorce for his parents to impress a classmate.
The pre and post war scenarios of A Voyage Round My Father carry a many warm and genuine reactions to scenarios from another era. The son’s comparison of explaining the beauty of landscape to his blind father while simultaneously observing a same-sex couple in an intimate setting is among the productions most amusing moments. Similarly, is the father’s interrogation of the son’s potential wife, a recent divorcee – couldn’t she do better than his son? While The Mother observes, “She’s got nice eyes for a divorcee.”
Bob Crowli’s garden inspired set blends seamlessly with Richard Eyre’s direction as the story transits with a dreamlike quality from The Father’s home to courtroom scenarios and The Son’s school.
Jack Bardoe as The Son knits the narrative together with ease as we see him progress from childhood to courtroom barrister, then writer. You cannot help but warm to Bardoe’s portrayal, as you see him mature and grow but still seeking the acceptance and love from his father.
Rupert Everett’s The Father is total light and shade, complex, but incredibly accessible, carrying a gamut of mood and emotion as the story unfolds. While he can appear to be cold and rude at some points, there are also see moments when The Father lets his guard down, more prominently with the arrival of his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth and his grandchildren.
With so many sublime characterisations from the ensemble cast, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of familiarity with many of the characterisations from another time. Mortimer’s observations were particularly real and of the period, and it’s a credit to the cast to bring these people alive again without the need to throw in some 21st century influence. Julian Wadham’s theatrical portrayal of the school head, Noah particularly resonated with me, while Allegra Marland’s Elizabeth and Eleanor David’s The Mother beautifully illustrated the generational differences of youth and maturity in post-war Britain.
A Voyage Round My Father gives a precious insight into the formative years of Rumpole of The Bailey creator John Mortimer and a vivid look into a bygone era – don’t miss it!
A Voyage Round My Father continues at Cardiff’s New Theatre until October 28. Visit the website for ticket details.