A wonderfully entertaining evening of laughter and fine acting is currently to be found in Keith Waterhouse’s Mr and Mrs Nobody, staged by Gabriella Bird in her directorial debut at Jermyn Street Theatre as the final play in the Footprints Festival which brought the venue out of lockdown. She has undoubtedly scored a triumph, bringing together the many elements that require detailed attention in this quirky, intimate and most eccentric piece of theatre.
A wonderfully entertaining evening of laughter and fine acting
The play is adapted from the comic novel Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith. Originally serialised in Punch magazine from 1888–89, it was published as an illustrated book with additional material in 1892. The diary was that of one Charles Pooter (Edward Baker-Duly) who writes a daily record describing his work as a clerk and the domestic and social life he shares with his wife Carrie (Miranda Foster) and his son William Lupin Pooter. Waterhouse decided that it would be an amusing two-hander if Mrs Pooter were also to keep a diary, giving her side of the story, on the basis that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Thus the scene is set for the couple to embark upon their respective missions. The diary entries are read aloud, each relating events in their overlapping worlds, but doing so, for the most part, as though the other weren’t there, although what each writes often comes across as sparkling banter with amusing and often pointed remarks made about the other. Mrs. Pooter rarely sees things in the same light as Mr. Pooter. She usually knows better than he and bides her time in order to get her own way. She tolerates, though fails to understand, his obsession with red enamel paint and puts up with his delight in banal and not particularly funny humour, while they both lament their inability to move freely in the circles to which they aspire. The lack of real dialogue heightens the moments when they do converse, often whilst moving the set around to create a new location; it’s amazing what can be achieved with a writing desk and a Japanese screen. Credit here to set designer Louie Whitemore. Costume design by Claire Nicholas is also worthy of praise giving each character a perfectly fitted period outfit appropriate to their status in society. The rest of the creatives also shine. Sound designer Tom Attwood finds period and whimsical music that creates the right mood and authentic sounds and effects for a couple living next to the railway line. Meanwhile, the many detailed props are all in the right place thanks to stage managers Sophie Jefferson and Alana Eden Barker and everything is carefully illuminated courtesy of lighting designer Johanna Town and her associate, the appropriately named Tom Lightboy.
Baker-Duly and Foster are ideally matched as a credible middle-class Victorian couple desirous of an elevated position in society. Baker-Duly portrays the husband whose traditional role is to have the upper hand and be the controlling force in a nineteenth century marriage, while Foster plays the equally traditional wife who reveals her thoughts in her diary fully aware that she is the mistress of the house who knows how to play her husband and ultimately get her own way. They both have the knack of saving a thousand words by a single look and equally know the power of timing in comedy. The evening wasn’t without its hiccups but these two have the expertise to use those moments to enhance the comedy and carry on regardless.
This is just the sort of play theatre’s should be putting on now. No lockdown navel-gazing here, just fabulously executed, rich entertainment. If this doesn’t lift your spirits then nothing will.