There’s a scattering of gently amusing and poignant moments in actor Michael Simkins’ stage adaptation of the popular correspondence between racing journalist Roger Mortimer and his errant son Charlie.
Real life father-and-son James and Jack Fox play Mortimer Sr and Jr, and while there’s an ease and affection to their relationship on stage, there’s also a lot of mugging going on. Much of the first half feels like a series of turns: here’s James Fox with a silly wig on as a raddled Soho prostitute, here he is in military garb, here he is in comedy boxer shorts, whoops, he just said ‘fuck’, how funny. Jack, meanwhile, whose only previous stage experience was in a lamentable Portrait of Dorian Gray last year is puppyish and almost endearingly eager but his is not the most nuanced performance.
The pacing of Philip Franks’ slightly dusty production, the presence of which in the West End smacks a bit of summer filler, settles in the second half. There’s a shift in tone as Charlie succumbs to drink and drugs and the health of both father and son starts to fail, something the charmed life they’ve lived, old Etonians both, can’t insulate them from.
The prospect of watching a parent slowly eroded by illness can’t help but be moving and that does end up being the case here, but it never feels like the production entirely earns it. More problematically, beneath the sprinkling of humour, surface amiability and veneer of Englishness there are some archaic attitudes which feel as if they’re being celebrated rather unquestioningly.
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