George Grossmith was the man who created the roles of John Wellington Wells, Sir Joseph Porter, Major General Stanley, Reginald Bunthorne, The Lord Chancellor, King Gama, Ko Ko, Robin Oakapple and Jack Point for Gilbert and Sullivan. His brother, Weedon, trained as an artist but, in order to make a living had to go on stage as well.
Together they wrote a series of columns for Punch, purportedly extracts from a diary written by Charles Pooter. Later they expanded columns into a short novel as a novel, which was an instant success and has never been out of print since. It is one of my favourite books.
In this dramatic adaptation, all the roles, including Mrs Pooter, male neighbours, various serving women and the Pooters’ son Lupin’s girl friends are played by four men. Given these constant switches of personae and the great pace and vigour of the production, the cast must be exhausted by the end of their ninety-odd minutes virtually continuously on stage.
Jake Curran captures the relatively complex character of Pooter in all of its various aspects. “I seldom make jokes’ he tells us near the beginning, but by the end of the play this has become almost the biggest joke of all. He perpetrates terrible puns and bursts of crassness––which he thinks of as evidence of his subtlety.
Jordan Mallory Skinner plays Mrs Pooter with an almost ethereal calm, which cracks from time to time, as when, for example, Pooter decides to paint the bath red.
They and the other two, play a variety of people; some to whose social standing Pooter aspires, some from whose company he longs to escape. Workmen, given sometimes rather airily vague instructions by Pooter, perpetrate various minor disasters.
In a window box in the wittily and sensibly designed set, mustard and cress stubbornly refuses to grow until… well, I won’t spoil the story.
Why three stars? It seemed to me that on the press night the last quarter of an hour was very noisy. Apart from the physical results of this, the atmosphere seemed to move rather too much from gentle satire to shouty confrontation. Even if I didn’t actually get a headache, I felt as if one was on its way.
I think it will calm down just enough to be comfortable as the run proceeds.
So, whether you haven’t come across this particular incarnation of the Victorian sense of the charmingly ridiculous, or simply wish to be reminded of it, jot it on your list of plays to see. And why not buy the book? 125 years after its first publication it really is still in print.