Life with the Pooters in Jermyn Street
“Gowing began sniffing and said: “I’ll tell you what, I distinctly smell dry rot.” I replied: “You’re talking a lot of dry rot yourself.” “
The novel Diary of a Nobody was published in 1892. It was the work of humourist actors and writers, George Grossmith and his younger brother Weedon (whatever inspired the Grossmith parents to call him that?). It was hugely satirical in its day with its exposée of the pretentious middle classes’ attempt to impress their neighbours with all kinds of dishonesty and talking themselves up.
Of course 1892 would be in the middle of the naughty nineties with playwrights like Oscar Wilde and artists like Aubrey Beardsley pushing the edges of social acceptability.
Charles and Carrie Pooter have just moved to a new house in London where the thunderous steam trains pass shaking the walls. Thank you Tom Attwood for your resounding soundscape of trains, fireworks and horse and carriages.
Resounding soundscape is an example of the kind of pun that Mr Pooter finds hilariously funny but if the audience laughs, it is at him rather than the pun itself. The rest of us groan with the banality of the obvious. Again and again, Pooter will summon Carrie to retell his latest pun and bray with donkey-like laughter, as he rates his wit off the scale.
So we have established that the main pleasure of Diary of a Nobody is schadenfreude. The tedious nature of Charles Pooter’s list of home improvements including painting the bath red will have some in hysterics while others will ask how on earth could he be so stupid?
In director Gabriella Bird’s version here of Keith Waterhouse’s 1983 play, Mrs Pooter’s Diary, re-titled Mr and Mrs Nobody for this Jermyn Street production, we also hear Caroline’s account of events as she is keeping her own diary besides her husband.
Mr Pooter is so full of his own importance that he fails to notice Carrie’s eye rolling at the audience. Carrie seemingly drops her own cover with her ambition to be accepted by those higher ranking in Victorian society when she says “a card wot a lady left” but then she was probably imitating Sarah the maid.
My interest picked up with the arrival of the Pooters’ son, once William, now preferring to go under the name of a poker like flower, Lupin. The vagaries of Lupin’s employment history and taste in ladies are entertaining.
The play opens as is the current vogue with dust sheets. I think this now common design device must be so a cast member can throw off the dust covers and reveal the set in a symbolic casting away (another Pooterish pun) of covid restrictions. The dust covers reveal Louie Whitemore’s three pieces of Victorian furniture, a hat stand for Mr and Mrs Pooter’s millinery collection, a substantial mahogany desk and a piano decorated with silver framed photos.
Both actors are very good at their parts although I feel Edward Baker-Duly wasn’t quite as stiff and unpleasant enough to be an absolute prig which Pooter undoubtedly is. Miranda Foster as Carrie, in her frock which Charles thinks is cut too low, is the perfect foil in seeing through Charles’ dissembling, but completely unaware of her own social climbing. Her expressions reveal her true feelings whereas her husband is oblivious to any negative reaction.
I think if you love Diary of a Nobody, you will find the humour charming and will love this production. I found it off-pooting!
Mr and Mrs Nobody
Written by Keith Waterhouse after the novel Diary of a Nobody, by George and Weedon Grossmith
Directed by Gabriella Bird
Director: Gabriella Bird
Designer: Louie Whitemore
Lighting Designer: Johanna Town
Sound Designer: Tom Attwood
Running Time: Two hours 15 minutes witrh an interval
Booking to 31st July 2021
Jermyn Street Theatre
London SW1Y 6ST
Website: Jermyn Street Theatre
Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at Jermyn Street Theatre
at the matinée on 8th July 2021