Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell at the Old Vic Theatre
If your idea of fun is being buttonholed in the corner of a pub by a particularly garrulous drunk, intent on telling you every riveting detail of his colourful life from his loves (women, gambling) to his losses (ditto), you may enjoy the theatrical entertainment that calls itself Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell.
Based on the stories of the legendary real-life drunk Jeffrey Bernard, who seems to have made a life out of his alcoholism until it made for his death last year, Keith Waterhouse has not so much written a play as a revue turn for an an actor to stumble about the stage with a drink never out of hand, a fag never out of mouth, and a stream of conciousness never far from his lips, as he finds himself mistakenly locked overnight inside his favourite drinking hole, the Coach and Horses in Greek Street, Soho.
Ned Sherrin s production - which keeps four more actors busily providing an endless parade of caricature fellow customers, publicans, cleaners, wives and policemen - luckily has Peter O'Toole at its centre. O Toole is at least compulsively watchable, making a fine art of self-destruction - something he knows of all too personally, having brought his own career back from the brink of it in a hell-raising, alcoholic former life.
Bernard, however, never learnt to live his life differently, and ultimately he would lose his looks, his leg and finally his life to the ravages of alcoholism and the diabetes it brought about. O'Toole's tour-de-force performance puts you in the odd position of applauding this truly awful man, even as you dread his next coarse, unsubtle utterance.
Nevertheless, the play - which is little more than a series of one-liners and sketches involving endless bits of business with ironing boards, knocking eggs into pint glasses and even mimed recreations of cat racing - outstays its welcome by at least half an hour. Still, considering its subject outstayed his own welcome by about half a century, I suppose we get off lightly.