Is this heavens to Jeffrey?

Theatre review

Theatre review

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Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell - Avenham Park Pavilion, 
Preston

After 10 years of touring summer Shakespeare in the region, Preston-based Dean Taylor Productions opt for something completely different.

There is something of Falstaff in the title role in Keith Waterhouse’s funny, poignant tribute to his drinking pal and fellow scribe, Jeffrey Bernard.

This legendary denizen of Soho’s Coach and Horses occasionally deigned to write a weekly column, famously described as “a suicide note in weekly instalments.” When a deadline was missed, they put ‘Jeffery Bernard Is Unwell’ in terse explanation.

Like Falstaff, an unrepentant womanising drinker and gambler, Bernard is also guilty, by his own admission, of “sloth, envy and self pity”.

The trick of his pal’s play is to make him more human, and humane, than the characters that orbit his path through life, with broad caricatures of wives, landlords, medics and the judiciary.

It is a ploy clearly understood and, in Dean Taylor’s portrayal, he follows in the footsteps of the likes of Peter O’Toole, Tom Conti and James Bolam, so no pressure, and none apparent.

Taylor easily affects the louche air of a man who downs a bottle of early-morning vodka as he waits for Norman the landlord to let him out of the pub where he has been inadvertently locked in all night.

As dawn rises, his life flashes before him, and us, in strip cartoon incidents, with characters supplied by Tim Scragg, Rebecca Charnley, Miriam Edwards and Tony Bond. The latter tends to rush his punchlines a little, but otherwise these are four fully supportive performances.

It would be a shame, particularly, if Charnley’s forthcoming Human Resources Graduate course was professional acting’s loss. Jeffrey would have been well upset!

by David Upton