views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Diary of a Nobody
White Bear Theatre
8th June 2014

★★★★☆

Jordan Mallory-Skinner and Jake Curran as Carrie and Charles Pooter

Photography © Andreas Grieger

Given how much time is invested these days in copying celebrities - to the point where retailers like ASOS even exist - it's refreshing to hear Charles Pooter (Jake Curran) declare he is justified in keeping a diary, because as far as he's concerned, everyone is capable of being interesting, even if not necessarily a "somebody". The Diary of a Nobody is not about anyone particularly rich or famous, rather it's the diary of an everyman from the 19th century and every mundane detail of his life.

Charles lives with his wife, Carrie (Jordan Mallory-Skinner) in the countryside, free from the decadence of central London. In his journal, Charles regales the reader with visits from Borset the Butterman (Porter Flynn), Farmerson the Ironmonger (Geordie Wright), the grocer's boy (Alexander Pritchett) and Horwin the Butcher (Mallory-Skinner). He updates the reader on the situation of his mustard-and-cress and radishes. Despite the high footfall, the Pooters' house isn't exactly party central.

However, as proven before, anything is interesting when under the direction of Mary Franklin. Just as she turned Daisy Ashford's The Young Visiters into a side-splitting play, George and Weedon Grossmith's 19th-century serial is equally transformed here. As the Pooters laugh uncontrollably at their own bad jokes and entertain their many boring guests, the plot is surprisingly enjoyable. There's a perfectly timed sense of catastrophe throughout the piece, which is very much in style of The 39 Steps meets The Play That Goes Wrong.

As the Pooters' mildly inept servant Sarah (Wright) runs around destroying the furniture, it looks accidental and yet at the same time, perfectly planned by Franklin. Some scenes, such as the piano falling over, do look less deliberate, but there's always plenty of humour, making it hard to ever truly tell. Much of the comedy derives from the sheer ridiculousness of the action - as the show suddenly pauses for a brief musical interlude, charmingly composed by Mallory-Skinner, it feels almost like we're having an out-of-body experience. The play within a play too is delightfully tongue-in-cheek, proving that whilst the company take their craft seriously, they're also willing to laugh at themselves.

Jake Curran as Charles Pooter

Photography © Andreas Grieger

Despite being based on a very banal diary, the production manages to be brilliantly barmy. Admittedly, it doesn't ever feel like there's an end in sight, but the rambling nature of the diary, as narrated by the whole cast, only adds to the play's charms.

The striking set has much in common with The Boy Who Cried Wolf, with designer Carin Nakanishi once again using black and white outlines to turn the stage into a story book come to life. Projected images are also once again used, and here by layering them over the already painted walls, this only adds to the general chaos. The cartoon effect makes it onto the clothes too, with thick black seams inked onto the costumes.

It's a real shame that Shelley Lang was forced to drop out of the performance due to an emergency, having seen her take the lead in Cleopatra, I have no doubt that she would have been fabulous. However, the fact that her fellow actors were able to cover for her nine roles only ever using a script in hand once and very briefly, is a real testament to the rest of the company's talent. If an announcement hadn't been made and if I hadn't known Lang was meant to be a part of the show, honestly, I'm not sure I would have noticed. The others did a fantastic job in making sure the show went on.

The cast are all excellent, but it's Mallory-Skinner who shines the most brightly, not only as Charles' long-suffering wife, but in standing in for several of Lang's roles in her absence. He imbues all his parts with an utterly delicious wryness and is fast becoming one of my favourite actors due to his versatility and professionalism.

The Diary of a Nobody is another well-executed production by Rough Haired Pointer with such a broad appeal that all the nobodies, somebodies - anybodies - will be hugely entertained.

The Diary of a Nobody ran from 3rd to 21st June 2014 at the White Bear Theatre. It transferred to the King's Head Theatre from 29th July to 24th August 2014 and return at the King's Head Theatre from 20th January to 14th February 2015.

Nearest tube station: Kennington (Northern)



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