Jeffrey Bernard, legendary journalist with an even more legendary lifestyle, has been locked in the Coach and Horses overnight. Philosophical at the thought of spending the coming hours in his favourite haunt, with access to unlimited booze, Bernard decides to tell the story of his life so far to the audience.
This classic comedy is written by Keith Waterhouse, himself an experienced newspaper columnist and admirer of Bernard’s, and the script is wonderful, witty, and entertaining. While Bernard himself is on stage for the entire night, trapped in the pub, other characters –figments of his imagination and memory – come and go briefly, and four actors do a great job of playing the rest of the characters.
So, the production benefits from a clever script and strong supporting performances from Stephen Giles, Cheryl Kendrick, Sarah Mather and Huw Sayer. A play like this will always succeed or fail, though, on the strength of the performance of the title role, and David Underwood is outstanding as Bernard. Whether he is trying to pull off a pub trick, or reminiscing about past adventures, he holds the audience’s attention completely. Playing a drunken character without going over the top is notoriously difficult to do, but Underwood does a superb job of capturing Bernard here. Particular highlights include the build-up as he teases attempting the pub trick, involving a raw egg, a glass of water, and a shoe – which had the audience holding their breath – and a fantastic cat racing sequence!
Ably directed by Ray Ledsham, and with the excellent sets we’ve come to expect from the group, this is one of the best productions I’ve seen at Grove Park, and theatre fans would be well advised to try and get tickets before the play ends on Saturday 16th February.