The Life I Lead
Park Theatre, London ★★★✩✩
THE actor David Tomlinson was the archetypal English gent, or at least, that’s how Walt Disney saw him when he cast the successful stage actor as the upstanding, uptight Mr Banks in Mary Poppins.
That role immortalised Tomlinson as the comic face of a slightly fusty, stiff-upper-lipped Englishness, yet as James Kettle reveals in this one-man show, Tomlinson was also a victim of precisely that same Edwardian emotional froideur, thanks to an austere and duplicitous father who for years hid from David and his two brothers the existence of a second family containing seven children.
Miles Jupp is almost too perfect a choice to play Tomlinson, capturing his vague air of bewilderment and polished sense of decency so effortlessly it’s impossible not to think he is essentially playing himself.
Kettle’s script touches on the many difficulties that plagued Tomlinson — as well as his father’s treachery, his first wife committed suicide, while his third son Willy was born with autism, a condition little understood at the time.
Yet the character remains trapped in a straitjacket of genial eccentricity, allowing Jupp precious few new places to go. There is a smattering of showbiz texture — Walt’s concern for Willy while the Tomlinsons are staying with him in Los Angeles is a nice touch — but there is also a lot of anecdotal padding.
Tomlinson emerges as a thoroughly good chap but that can’t prevent an hour and 30 minutes in his company from feeling like at least half an hour too much.