review Off The King’s Road Jermyn Street Theatre

Off The King’s Road

Reviewer's Rating

Michael Brandon plays Matt Browne a retired American businessman who has come to London for a holiday. His reason is to get past the death of his wife six months earlier. He wants to revisit his favourite city so has booked himself into a quiet boutique hotel called, and is, ‘Off the King’s Road’. He has his instructions from his psychiatrist, principally to write lists of the things he wants to do so that he does them. A white board is specifically requested for his hotel room, where most of the play is set.

This is a gentle and humorous play, looking at how a fairly typical older man might deal with being set adrift by the loss of his wife of 38 years. He deals with this loss in a fairly typically male fashion. He’s packed the Valium and the Viagra, and it doesn’t take him long to contact a prostitute, Sheena (Diana Dimitrovici).

The play is set mostly in the hotel. There is Freddie, brilliantly played by Luke Pitman, the caring hotel employee. Freddie is in his twenties and looks after his guests in a kind of discreet paternal and entertainingly camp fashion. ‘Tassels! he exclaims in delight as Matt shows off a pair of shoes he is planning to wear for a date.

A highlight of the play is the ‘e-appearance’ of Jeff Bridges as the quackish Dr Kozlowski. When Matt can’t cope and needs ‘to vent’, he phones his patient psychiatrist, even though it’s 2am in California. A Skype connection is made using the tv screen and a dishevelled and bearded Jeff Bridges as Dr Kozlowski appears. Bridges is superb, as might be expected, even remotely via Skype. His main advice beyond making sure Matt has been writing his lists on the white board, is to take Valium and breath. Dr Kozlowski has his own problems (he’s temporarily separated from his wife) and clearly has to make the effort to show interest in what’s going on with Matt in London.

The problem with the play it that it is quite clichéd and the two female characters in particular are fairly stereotypical. The other hotel guest is Ellen Mellman (flawlessly played by Cherie Lunghi) who is, naturally, an attractive slightly eccentric English widow with a cat. She is overly interested in the ‘eligible’ Mr Browne. Then there is the East European prostitute who is, of course, pleased to have a (much) older man. She is initially dismissive of ‘Mr Don’ (as Matt calls himself to her) and then is regretful at their parting, and has a (off-stage) jealous and violent boyfriend.

Matt Browne isn’t a particularly interesting character but he is clearly a kind man, and his loss is palpable. He refers to his favourite film several times, Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. The play is also a look at the later part of life, but it is a light-hearted, entertaining look rather than any examination of it.