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Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell | Coach and Horses Pub

In a darkened Soho pub, a man shuffles into view, bumping into the furniture on his way. He is Jeffrey Bernard (Robert Bathurst), journalist and alcoholic, he has found himself locked in the pub and he will pass the time until the landlord comes to rescue him by regaling the audience with tales from his life.

Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, first performed with Peter O’Toole in the title role in 1989 and now adapted into an hour-long one man monologue by director James Hiller, riffs off The Spectator’s habit of printing a page with that exact phrase in lieu of real-life journalist Bernard’s column when he was too drunk or hungover to produce it.

As such it is an uncomfortable watch at times, as Bernard spends the duration of the play making quips, telling amusing anecdotes, and largely refusing to admit that his behaviour is a problem. In one memorable scene, Bathurst chooses an audience member to read an NHS survey on problem drinking to him, while, in character, he rebuffs each question with a witty remark.

That is not to say that there is no entertainment to be had. Keith Waterhouse’s script is enormously funny and Hillier’s direction sees Bathurst rambling about the room, pulling audience members into his bizarre party tricks (the cat racing was a particular highlight) and making use of a baffling array of props.

Hillier’s adaptation, produced by Defibrillator and Mitchell Reeve for M. Green Productions, also brings the play to Greek Street’s Coach and Horses pub, the location from Waterhouse’s original script, with this allowing for an intimate feel as well as lending a degree of authenticity to the piece. It does cause some issues with sightlines at times, but Bathurst’s near-constant movement means that he is never out of view for long.

Although Bathurst is alone with his audience, Max Pappenheim’s sound design brings other characters into play, most commonly beleaguered exes, and this adds depth to the production, along with some of the more critical examination of Bernard’s behaviour which the show otherwise lacks.

Robert Bathurst gives a stunning performance as Bernard, connecting with the audience as he roams the pub and keeping up momentum from start to finish. But many of the references are now understandably dated, and the lack of willingness of the production to fully confront some of the more difficult topics it raises means that Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell fails to resonate as well as it could in this revival.

Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell plays at the Coach and Horses Pub, Greek Street until 21 November. For more information and tickets, follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Tom Howard 


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