Review: The Life I Lead

4 star rating
One man show with Miles Jupp as David Tomlinson - who played Mr Banks in the old classic Mary Poppins film - epitomising Englishness. What's not to love?
The Life I Lead at Park Theatre

Image: Park Theatre

Theatre: Park Theatre

Closes here: Saturday 30 March 2019

James Kettle

Selina Cadell


Miles Jupp


Best remembered for playing Mr Banks in Disney's classic film Mary Poppins, David Tomlinson was renowned for playing the classic English gent, forthright, proper, and a loveable fool.

His meeting with Walt Disney came to encapsulate his incredible life full of adventure and heartbreak.

The man who portrayed one of cinema's most famous patriarchs was defined by his relationship with his own father - a remote eccentric, who was hiding an extraordinary tragicomic secret.

The Life I Lead sees Miles Jupp, one of Britain's leading stand-up comedians and revered actors (Mock the Week, The News Quiz, Rev, The Durrells) bring David Tomlinson's remarkable story to life.

A richly comic and moving tale of fathers and sons across the generations, The Life I Lead fills in the blanks behind a very well-known face.

ActDrop reviews

Eugenia Ziranova

Performance date: Monday 18 March 2019
Review star rating image

Miles Jupp plays David Tomlinson who played Mr Banks (the father) in the old classic Mary Poppins film, as well as acting in other ventures ranging from familiar comedy to darker, yet still gentle, offerings.

This one-man show starts slowly, requiring familiarity with mid-twentieth century British films, which got me a bit uneasy, but then hits the wider road of telling stories.

It spans the whole career of David Tomlinson from first wordless roles to graceful retirement, and covers in parallel his relationships with his deceitful father, his autistic son, the period of World War II, his work with Disney, the horrendous story of his first marriage and joy of his second ... and so on.

It is literally "The life I lead".

Since the story is about an actor, it is logical that there is a lot of acting.

"David Tomlinson" tells anecdotes presenting a whole host of characters, and Miles Jupp indulges himself in developing a voice, gait and posture for all of them: a pushy Texan, a prudish landlady, a thick stage manager, and, of course, the colourful figure of David's father that suspiciously resembles Mr Banks.

Oh, Mr Banks!

Englishness sells, and the set of clichés that is Mr Banks / Tomlinson-senior epitomises it.

Bowler hats, umbrellas, classic education, stiff upper lip, emotional coldness to all things breathing including one's own children, jokes about the weather, dry sense of humour, unapologetic promiscuity, and the quest for the ideal roast beef - what's not to love here?

Actually, the only part I dislike is when characters are being bitter about Americans - chips on shoulders, inferiority complexes and envy annoy me enormously.

But hey, this time we managed to get away without straying into the topic of the Empire - that is already success.

The play would have easily worked without staging, set or costumes, because we can enjoy this genre simply, almost as though we're in conversation round a table.

I wondered whether there are plans to perform the play at larger venues, since I had doubts if this intimate show could be scaled.

But if they manage to make it work, I will be sending friends in droves.

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