Delightful and witty, Dear Lupin was a wonderful stage adaptation of the correspondence between Major Roger Francis Mortimer (1909-1991), the Sunday Time’s racing correspondent for 29 years, to his prodigal son Charlie, affectionately nicknamed Lupin from the comic Victorian novel The Diary of a Nobody.
Roger, now deceased, is brought back to life when Charlie is bequeathed his father’s writing desk and discovers a thick wad of letters stored in one of the drawers. Nostalgically, ironically, and flippantly, Charlie narrates his own life as an Eton and army dropout, an alcoholic and a homosexual, whilst Roger interrupts to read out his letters addressed to his hedonistic son whom he never gives up on trying to dissuade from his ‘unorthodox lifestyle’.
The letters are mercilessly caustic, so prepare yourself for a true exhibition of stiff-upper-lip humour as well as a good dose of quintessential English charm. But they are also, underneath, warm and loving and full of awkward concern. The acting was on the whole very commendable. Will Hall played a sarcastically introverted Roger Mortimer, with an excellent sense of emotional reserve. His doubling as an army officer and Denise Bunny the Soho prostitute were fantastic in their vocal performance but lacked sadly any change of physicality from Roger. Joe Sefton had great energy and flair in playing Charlie. His monologues were tragically moving whilst avoiding sentimentality. Highlights included performing an Elvis impression at Sotheby’s and camping in France.
The set depicting Mortimer’s living room was simple but effective. An neat array of wooden cabinets, sepia pictures and a hunting rifle had a touch of realism. At the same time, however, the set lent itself to imaginative reinvention and successfully served to stage very different places including Eton, the army, rehab and a care-home. Props were also used ingeniously, with school straw hats as driving wheels and watering cans as clouds. Sometimes, however, there were odd transitions between scenes in which there was not enough time for props or costumes to be properly put on or set down, which lent the show an uncomfortable sense of off-balance.
The more technical features of the production were mostly good, although had some perplexing aspects. The music used was diverse and mannered, ranging from the Marriage of Figaro to Christmas choral music and boating songs. However, lighting could have been more varied, and the long blackouts over which radio-clips of racing were played left the audience disorientated and made the actions of play seem disjunct.
Overall, this was not the smoothest of productions, but was undoubtedly funny and unexpectedly touching. In a play embedded in English traditions, conventions and stereotypes, it nonetheless manages to reveal the Mortimers as warmly eccentric and surprisingly relatable. Dear Lupin is definitely worth going to see!