saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
The Diary of a Nobody
The King's Head Theatre
23rd January 2015
There's a rather hackneyed saying which you often find superimposed on photos of cute kittens hugging and whatnot - you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world. Twee and overdone as it is, this sentiment captures the relationship between the Pooters perfectly. They're very normal, ordinary people with ordinary lives - nobodies, if you like. Unremarkable to anyone else, they laugh raucously at shared unfunny jokes and seek comfort in each other in those difficult moments life throws at them. Arguments about enamel paint aside, Charles Pooter (Jake Curran) and his wife, Carrie (Jordan Mallory-Skinner) are a very happily married couple, and The Diary of a Nobody captures a snapshot of that life.
Originally the work of George and Weedon Grossmith in Punch, director Mary Franklin has adapted Diary into a 100-minute quasi-farce for stage, all about something and nothing. Their hopes and aspirations for their son Lupin (George Fouracres), their attempted dalliance with high society - it's not an exciting plot when related, but the cast make this tale sparkle with magic. Mallory-Skinner and Curran work brilliantly against each other, having treaded the boards together in previous productions such as The Boy Who Cried, bringing out a real warmth in the Pooters' relationship. Mallory-Skinner is quite clearly a man in a long skirt, but you couldn't picture any actress taking this role away from him.
Geordie Wright is a wonderfully unstoppable whirlwind of improv and disaster as the Pooters' maid Sarah (amongst other parts - he has ten in total) and new boy Fouracres works hard to prove he's just as good as the returning actors. Sometimes his many accents wander and he's the first to visibly corpse, but neither of these things matter in a play which is so deliberately ramshackle and fun. His list of characters is also in the double digits and he certainly pulls his weight in both music and acting. To everyone's credit, it's impossible without prior knowledge to tell he's new to the team.
Out of all of the members of Rough Haired Pointer, and the actors who regularly work with the company, Wright does always seem to be the one enjoying himself the most, and this makes the audience comfortable. Perhaps too comfortable - a latecomer broke the fourth wall and spoke to him - but as with all mishaps, Wright improvised around it. A large chunk of what the ensemble does on stage is clearly carefully put together by Franklin, but there is some unscripted chaos too, with Wright accidentally destroying set designer Christopher Hone's hard work. The way they all react and pull together swiftly is hilarious and Franklin deserves praise for fostering the kind of dynamic where they can seemingly cope with anything that goes wrong. With that said, you can't help but feel for Hone and, for that matter, stage manager Ricky McFadden. By the end of the night, it does look like the company's mascot (an enthusiastic and gorgeous rough-haired pointer) has charged around the theatre and demolished everything.
On the first time seeing this piece, I compared it to The 39 Steps and The Play That Goes Wrong, and it does still more than hold its own against those heavyweights. It works triumphantly as a four-hander, with the original number of actors from Franklin's first adaptation now cut by two. But as much as I didn't want the play to stop, it did feel obvious where the interval used to fall. It didn't bother me as such and I do, admittedly, have the advantage of having seen the first run of The Diary of a Nobody, but given the set is essentially meant to represent a book, you do think the slight gap should have been papered over better.
The cartoonish design by Carin Nakanishi - invoking the younger Grossmith's illustrations - with its bold outlines and cross-hatching is respectfully recreated by Hone here, and works just as well in the King's Head space as it did in the White Bear. The shift from stark white paint to a more aged cream is subtle, and just like this tight cast of four, seems like that's the way it always was, purely because it works and you don't remember this play ever not being a sheer delight. Just like with The Young Visiters, Franklin has taken what I consider to be a fairly average publication, but turned it into something which works so much better as a script, and packed an impossible amount of humour into it. If you're curious as to what makes a good director, read anything this company performs, then watch how Franklin transforms it. It's all in the delivery, and she has impeccable timing.
As well as fiercely holding onto their favourite talent by reusing the same actors, a growing strength of Rough Haired Pointer is that the influence of the company's musical director Mallory-Skinner is becoming more obvious. I challenge anyone to see The Diary of a Nobody and not leave with Mallory-Skinner's original theme repeating in their head - I remembered it fondly from the first run and it's a pleasant melody which captures the tone of the production and makes you want to sway and grin like a nutter. This is very much a feelgood piece - the company are capable of more than just comedy, but this is a genre they do very well indeed.
As exciting as it is to see the group working with new material, I am pleased that they've revisited such a joyful show from their back catalogue. The Diary of a Nobody is a real tonic for the soul. It's fast, funny and leaves you feeling deeply contented and entertained. Underneath all the comedy, it's quite a wholesome and fulfilling tale - really, the King's Head Theatre couldn't have wished for a better start to their new season.
The Diary of a Nobody ran from 20th January to 14th February 2015 at the King's Head Theatre.
Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)