Theatre Review: Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, Coach And Horses, London, W1

Theatre Review: Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, Coach & Horses, London, W1

Love pubs? Love theatre? Then I definitely have a show for you. Robert Bathurst, best known for Cold Feet and Toast of London, plays Jeffrey Bernard, renowned writer and boozer who finds himself locked in Soho's Coach and Horses overnight. And the beauty of this production is that it is set in the very Coach and Horses he used to frequent all too frequently. You can enjoy the action and literally drink in the atmosphere in every sense.

The play was written by Keith Waterhouse and this version is directed and adapted by James Hillier. Legendary actor/bon viveur Peter O'Toole made the part his own so those are big shoes to fill but Bathurst does a great job as he wanders around the premises, topping up his glass and smoking a fag while he regales us with his colourful life story.

And there are some great anecdotes, which is particularly impressive as this is a man who, when he wanted to write his autobiography ran an ad asking people if they knew what he had been doing for most of the 1960s and 1970s (heavy drinkers do actually seem to have remarkable recall. The late AA Gill wrote a whole book about his life despite suffering from regular blackouts. I don't drink much - I'm more of a bar nerd than a Bernard – but couldn't even remember where I'd left my glasses this morning). 

Bernard never had what you might call a proper job, or a proper education, leaving school very young. Yet he somehow filed brilliant copy for both the Sporting Life and The Spectator. The title of this play comes from the fact that maybe occasionally he didn't quite meet the deadlines. But the fact that he ever met a deadline given his somewhat louche, perma-sozzled lifestyle is impressive.

Bathurst regales us with a series of hilarious tales of a lost world of dodgy drinking dens, dubious characters and days at the races, but also doesn't flinch about the downside, from broken marriages to broken health. It's a difficult balance to strike though. Despite the fact that alcohol had a devastating effect on Bernard, Bathurst, who manages to be simultaneously scruffy and dapper, gives the impression that there is some glamour to this lifestyle. This is probably not a play for anyone with a puritan Whiteadder streak.

The site specificness adds extra magic to an already enjoyable solo show. I checked to see if there was a set designer and of course there isn't. The set is the pub. Everyone gets a good seat at some point as Bathurst is never in one place for too long. There's a little bit of audience interaction, an old trick with an egg and a stuffed cat race. The latter was definitely the highlight for my dog (yes, it's in a pub, of course I took my dog). 

It's not cheap and maybe they missed a trick not giving everyone a free shot of something to get them in the right spirits from the off, but this really is a rather special night. i've got a friend who loves pubs but does not love theatre. He explained why here. I think he will love this. 

On Sundays and Mondays in February with a late show on Saturday, February 17. Book tickets and sign up to the Newsletter to hear first about new dates here.

Picture: Tom Howard

****four stars



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