Theatre Review: Dear Lupin at the Theatre Royal, Bath
This review was first written for The Public Reviews
Over the course of twenty -five years, Sunday Times horse-racing correspondent Roger Mortimer wrote regularly to his wayward son Charlie, often in exasperation, but always with humour and affection. The collection of his letters, Dear Lupin – already a publishing sensation – has now been adapted for the stage by Michael Simkins, a two-hander starring the real-life pairing of father and son James and Jack Fox.
After a round of Mastermind which neatly fills in much of Roger’s background, the trials and tribulations of Charlie’s life from the age of fifteen to adulthood are explored through a mix of narration, excerpts from the letters and vignettes of pivotal moments. Whereas in the book, Roger’s correspondence is unanswered and our knowledge of his son gleaned primarily from reading between the lines, in this stage adaptation, more of Charlie himself is revealed; his comfortable upbringing and schooldays at Eton, his drink and drug-fuelled youth, misadventures in the Coldstream Guards, health problems and a haphazard series of jobs.
The humour of Roger’s original letters shines through. Charlie, nicknamed Lupin early on as a tribute to Mr Pooter’s feckless son in Diary of a Nobody, in danger of being expelled from Eton in 1967 is told; “You may think it mildly amusing to be caught poaching in Windsor Great Park; I would consider it more hilarious if you were not living on the knife edge.” His father criticises him for wearing his hair “like a 1923 typist” and admonishes: “Even allowing for the fact that you cannot yet tie a bow tie, a sweat rag coiled round your neck is a somewhat unattractive form of evening dress….”
James Fox inhabits the role of Roger comfortably, with all the familiarity of donning a much-loved tweed jacket, sharing wry in-jokes about his wife’s drinking habits and over-reliance on the microwave. Jack Fox, given the lion’s share of narration, still sparkles with a charming roguish vitality as Charlie. The work of being a believable father and son may already be done, but the two still convincingly convey the nuances of the relationship, the loving familial ties bound up in everyday impatience and insouciance, pride and despair.
The set has all the appearance of a second hand furniture salesroom, which it becomes in one episode of Charlie’s life, but reveals itself to be a heady mix of yesteryear and repository of memories – Roger’s desk and typewriter which he uses to write his letters, the panama hat he wears while typing them. Under Philip Franks’ direction it becomes an Eton classroom, an unlikely assault course in the Brecon Beacons, a brothel and a setting for an exuberant Elvis impersonation.
And yet, despite these interludes, because of the reliance on narration, there is an overall sense that this adaptation is a little too safe and one-paced. Although there are references to the passage of time, the characters don’t seem to reflect this in becoming significantly older or younger over the twenty-five year span. And, in introducing greater detail of Charlie’s life, there’s a commensurate need which isn’t met for more light to be thrown on the reasons behind his actions and their wider consequences.
There’s a moving conclusion as the health of both Mortimers begins to fail, and the humour remains steady to the last. For lovers of the book, though, it may seem that the stage version of Dear Lupin doesn’t provide enough new insights or quite coalesce into the sum of its parts. Yet it still provides an entertaining and affectionate perspective on the enduring strength of family ties – from the Foxes to the Mortimers – from one father and son to another.
Runs until Saturday 25th April 2015 | Photo: Manuel Harlan