Derek Jacobi plays the author’s father in a new production of John Mortimer’s 1970 play A Voyage Round My Father at the Donmar Warehouse (See News, 5 May 2006), which opened last night (Tuesday 13 June 2006, previews from 8 June). The autobiographical piece charts the relationship between a man and his blind barrister father who refuses to acknowledge his disability.
The cast, directed by Gate Theatre artistic director Thea Sharrock, also features Dominic Rowan, Natasha Little, Christopher Benjamin and Joanna David alongside Jacobi. The play has a limited season until 5 August 2006 at the Donmar.
First night critics enjoyed reminiscing about the stereotypically old-school English gentleman portrayed by Jacobi, and felt that the scenes, although episodic, joined to create a touching picture of family life.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com - “You can hardly move for people writing memoirs about their fathers these days, but one of the first, and one of the best, was John Mortimer’s A Voyage Round My Father, affectionately revived by Thea Sharrock... Derek Jacobi gives a captivating, unsentimental performance as the old boy, straight as a ramrod, mixing his cross-examination in the divorce court with a piquant evocation of his own performance as Richard II. Shakespeare quotation was a second tongue in the Mortimer household and Jacobi makes the transitions seamless... Sharrock’s production – simply designed by Robert Jones, with a sunlit border of flowery luxuriance - gives each episode its full weight and flavour without apology for theatrical bittiness…. Finally, though, the play belongs to ‘Father’ and the sight (and sound) of Jacobi belting out his own cantankerous version of ‘Pretty Polly Perkins of Paddington Green’ as a defiant counterpoint to the school hymn will be an abiding memory of an innocent, enjoyably nostalgic evening.”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times - “Thirty-five years ago, when Voyage first appeared, it was as if he (Mortimer) was publishing his autobiography onstage. And a thoroughly entertaining autobiography it was and is, thanks to the title character, a blind barrister played in 1971 by Alec Guinness and now by a white-haired Derek Jacobi… Jacobi certainly catches Father’s infectious sense of mischief, wayward exhibitionism and almost aggressive facetiousness. But note the play’s title. This is a voyage round a man who remains elusive, not a voyage to his centre. Maybe Old Mortimer’s flippancy was defensive, a way of preserving his privacy. Maybe it was his response to a world he thought essentially absurd. Or maybe it was a sign that he had no centre at all. The play leaves us guessing and manages to stay funny and intelligent in the process… And you can’t miss the touching truth: Voyage Round My Father is a confession of posthumous love.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian - “Deftly, Mortimer takes us through his early years introducing us to a set of bizarre neo-Dickensian figures…. But it is, of course, the writer's father who is the largest character of them all; and the chief pleasure of Thea Sharrock's revival lies in watching Derek Jacobi explore the old man's intransigent selfhood… Jacobi brings out his peppery brusqueness… at his imposing best when he enters the law courts which he treats as a stage he can effortlessly dominate: the old man, he makes you realise, was an actor in all but name… Although the evening has a faintly discursive quality, it is well played by Dominic Rowan as the exploratory narrator, Joanna David as his heroically self-denying mother and Christopher Benjamin as a comically euphemistic headmaster. What you get, in the end, is not just a voyage round John Mortimer's father but also a highly revealing journey into the author's own interior.”
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard - “John Mortimer is one of those rare writers who has perfected the art of autobiographical reminiscence for the stage” and Voyage “has improved with time. Thea Sharrock's beautifully pitched and acted production captures a lost England of prep-school masters recommending cold showers for hot thoughts, small boys warned that life cannot be faced without the ability to fox-trot and the adult Mortimer immersed in World War II patriotic movie-making… It speaks to me like a personally delivered letter. I watched in a haze of moist eyes and amusement… The actors catch the right period mood. Christopher Benjamin is sheer comic bliss as the headmaster who issues coded warnings on schoolboy masturbation and Joanna David makes a fine, sacrificial mother. Sir Derek, looking rather like EM Forster, powerfully conveys the father's irascibility and theatricality… Sir Derek's theatricality may sometimes be of a too extravagant and emphatic kind, yet Mortimer's Voyage still remains an unmissable comic trip.”
- by Caroline Ansdell