Conti Tours Barrymore's Life Ahead of West EndDate: 31 October 2002
Tom Conti (pictured) stars in the British premiere of an American play about the legendary and eternally tipsy matinee idol John Barrymore. William Luce’s One Helluva Life, previously titled Barrymore in the US, opened last night (30 October 2002) at Greenwich Theatre and continues on tour to four more venues until 7 December. Further tour dates are now being finalised for early 2003 ahead of an expected West End transfer.
Set in 1942, the wickedly funny, once-great classical actor is back on stage struggling uproariously to recreate his famed portrayal of Richard III. But his troubled life intercedes, as Barrymore realises he has enough money to last him for the rest of his life - as long as he dies right now. His drinking and his womanising have caught up with him. Even the stage manager hired to prompt his rehearsals heckles as the great man reminisces with caustic wit, about his career's triumphs and disappointments.
Conti is well-remembered for his portrayal of another lovable drunk in Keith Waterhouse's one-man play Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, about the late British journalist and rabble-rouser. Conti's other stage credits include Jesus My Boy, Art and Whose Life Is It Anyway? for which he won the Olivier, Tony and Variety Club awards for Best Actor. On screen, Conti has starred in films such as Shirley Valentine, Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence and Reuben, Reuben, for which he was Oscar-nominated.
In One Helluva Life Conti is joined - albeit off-stage - by Rupert Farley as Barrymore's stage manager. The production is directed by Bryan Forbes, with lighting by Leonard Tucker. It's produced in the UK by Conti along with Tom Kinninmont and Laurence Myers.
In the US, where it enjoyed an extended Broadway season and national tour, Barrymore starred Christopher Plummer, who the 1997 Best Actor Tony for her performance as the late actor. One Helluva Life continues at Greenwich Theatre until 9 November 2002 and then visits Guildford, Bath, Dorset and Richmond.
- by Terri Paddock