By Katrina ffiske

Quickly – book your tickets to see Miles Jupp, at Salisbury Playhouse, acting out the story of David Tomlinson. Best remembered as Mr Banks in Disney’s Mary Poppins, David Tomlinson was renowned for playing the classic English gent. Behind this well-known face is a comic and moving tale that Miles tells to perfection.

Miles Jupp, one of Britain’s leading stand-up comedians and actors (The Thick of It, The News Quiz, Mock the Week and The Durrells) brings Tomlinson’s remarkable story to life single-handedly.

Writer James Kettle, lead writer of BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz, spotted the similarities between Tomlinson and Jupp, while watching Mary Poppins. Wanting to tell the story of Tomlinson, he invited Jupp to play the part, indeed all the parts. Miles initially panicked: “I knew I would miss the camaraderie of my fellow actors backstage, and I would have to learn all the lines,” but luckily for Salisbury he accepted the challenge. 

The striking set, designed by Lee Newby, has a surrealist air about it, similar in style and feel to the Magritte painting, Man in Bowler Hat. A backdrop of white clouds creates a calming natural scene while a door stands centre stage, with a cut-out of a Mr Banks figure. Luxurious curtains are suspended in the air, a ladder leads to nowhere and four bowler hats are dotted around the stage. 

On steps Jupp into this slightly unnerving scene but immediately he puts the audience at ease. Jupp’s similarity to Tomlinson is remarkable and within minutes you think you are having a private audience with the man himself. 

Tomlinson was a ‘glass half full’ man. Miles is excellent at getting the humour and love of life he had across, then quickly changing the tone to heart-breaking scenes. The lighting, by Matthew England, plays a crucial part in the play, adding tension, dimming at sober moments, bursting into bright warm light at happier ones. 

Jupp deftly plays all the characters, and throughout the evening, vividly brings Tomlinson’s family and friends to life. The main theme of the play is the relationship between father and sons, and Jupp is excellent playing the cold-hearted father, obsessed with Napoleon, longing to find the perfect slice of beef and failing to accept his son as an actor. 

We are taken to the set of Mary Poppins in Los Angeles, where Jupp skilfully plays Walt Disney working closely with Tomlinson on details of Mr Banks’s character. He then switches to being the ‘angel’ Julie Andrews, then minutes later he will be crouched down talking to Tomlinson’s child. 

At the end of the evening, you cannot quite believe you have watched a play with only one actor, when you are leaving with so many images in your head. It is an evening of laughter and tears. James Kettle has produced a wonderfully-funny, heart-warming, moving script, perfectly played by Jupp who is extraordinarily believable and absorbing as David Tomlinson.

Thursday March 14 – Saturday March 16


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