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Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
3 stars
What, one wonders, would the late Jeffrey Bernard have made of the
internet age? The image of Fleet Street's original legend in his own
somewhat extended lunchtime and old soak in residence of Soho
hostelries blogging from the corner of his sainted Coach and Horses
while necking several large vodkas is an appealing one. Whether this
would mean Bernard would meet his deadlines at last instead of having
his byline perennially appended with the immortal 'is unwell' is
another thing entirely. In lieu of such a scenario, Keith Waterhouse's
affectionate 1989 homage to this spectacular gambler, drunk, ladies man
and scoundrel is probably the nearest we'll get to such dispatches.

Traditionally a vehicle for well-preserved leading men of a certain
age, Waterhouse's play here finds a twinkly-eyed Robert Powell stepping
into our hero's crumpled suit and coming to in the now locked bar he
calls home at 5am. Fuelled by enough double measures to fell an
elephant, Bernard sifts through his back pages of booze-soaked
anecdotes and proceeds to unfurl an unreconstructed litany on
mortality, manhood and the loss of both. This is illustrated in David
Grindley's production by a quartet of cameo actors putting flesh on
Bernard's deadly one-liners. Even Waterhouse himself, another Fleet
Street warhorse, gets his neb in.

But behind the self-mythologising lies a sadness to Bernard's wilful
self-destruction that we never quite get to the heart of in a play that
is essentially an old pal's act that prefers to see its subject's
roaring boy's rake's progress through rose-tinted optics. Waterhouse's,
and indeed Powell's Bernard, then, is an irresistible relic still worth
toasting.

The Herald, June 1st 2011

ends

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