Dear Lupin at Bath Theatre Royal

playslupin2James Fox (plays Roger Mortimer) and Jack Fox (plays Charlie Mortimer) in Dear Lupin - Photo credit Simon Turtle - (2)BATH audiences were delighted last night to have had the opportunity of seeing father and son James and Jack Fox in a brand new stage adaptation of Dear Lupin.
The book on which it is based, Dear Lupin: Letters to a Wayward Son, was written by father and son Roger and Charlie Mortimer in 2012 and later selected as the Sunday Times Humour Book of the Year.   Although Roger, himself the former horse-racing correspondent for the Sunday Times, died in 1991, Charlie, we are told, always remained close to him, and in compiling the letters felt that it was the nearest he could get to writing his father’s life story. Michael Simpkins’ stage adaptation brings Roger Mortimer’s witty, sometimes touching, and always generous letters to his unruly son Charlie (who is nicknamed Lupin after Mr. Pooter’s disreputable son in Diary of a Nobody) vividly to life. Spanning 25 years, the play is packed with crisp anecdotes and sharp observations, meandering tales and dry advice, as he traces the trials and tribulations of his son’s troubled youth and adulthood with a heady mix of humour, resignation and affection.
fThe Mortimers belong to that upper-crusty, stiff upper lip-ish British set that, on the surface at least, seem to care far more for horses and hunting than they do for bringing up their offspring; needless to say, both father and son are old Etonians.  Therein lies some of the humour of course, but the play is rather more than this.  Far from stereotyping their somewhat archaic lifestyle, the play presents us with two totally believable people who maintain our interest, win our affection and who, in their own way, have a great affection for each another as well.  Much of the somewhat idiosyncratic family background is explained in the first moments of the play when the Eton Boating Song suddenly switches to the theme music to Mastermind with Mortimer Snr. in the contestant’s chair.  His chosen subject?  Roger Mortimer of course.   A clever idea and one that gives us a picture of the man and, in particular, his sense of humour, without the need to spend hours filling in unnecessary detail.
As Roger Mortimer, James Fox was in his element.  To have a play about an actual father and son being played by another bona fide father and son is really quite touching and probably as close to the real thing as you can get – certainly more real than so-called reality TV. More than once I felt as though I was eavesdropping on genuine encounters between the two of them.  As the father, Fox’s performance was finely tuned and never over-stated, allowing the dialogue to speak for itself.
The play, however, gives him the opportunity of playing a series of delightful cameo roles too; a number of military gentlemen, (Field Marshall Montgomery included), an aging prostitute and a shady antiques dealer among them.  These he delivered with great panache.
In the book, which I must admit I have not read, one imagines that Charlie, the son, would remain pretty much in the background, for though his father’s letters are to him and often about him, theirs is a one-way correspondence.  In the play, however, Charlie becomes a character in his own right and indeed it is he who holds the whole show together.  I am far from certain I would have automatically warmed to the guy if I were to actually meet him; he was a bit of a crook to say the least and his life degenerated to the extent that he became an alcoholic and drug addict in his early twenties and later, sadly, became HIV positive.   However, in Jack Fox’s wonderfully energetic performance we see that he possesses charm in abundance and we find ourselves liking him enormously.   I particularly enjoyed those scenes where he spoke candidly to the audience, bringing us directly into his life.
A wordy, two-hander of this nature could easily become rather dreary to watch, but in the hands of director Philip Franks and aided by Adrian Linford’s imaginative set, we had a show that was as much fun to look at as it was to listen to; scenes such as father and son speeding through the country in a car that had seconds earlier been a writing desk, or a training exercise in the Brecon Beacons amongst bookshelves and a giant chest of drawers all kept us entertained.   But there were serious moments too, and the final scenes in the play in particular were treated with great tenderness.  Here we see an aging father deteriorating in health and a son in a rehab clinic struggling with his HIV status and his drink and drug problems.   Although humour is never too far away, “Any chance of getting your mother in?” Mortimer Snr. wittily asks, his final, simple words: “Look after your mother” show us the warm humanity and inner sincerity that permeated everything he wrote and said.
Performances run until 25th April, with matinees at 2.30 on Wednesday and Saturday.


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