Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell
By Keith Waterhouse at Questors theatre
Opens 2 October in the Playhouse
Imagine spending two hours on stage, delivering a rambling monologue while supposedly drunk.
That is the challenge facing Steve Fitzpatrick, who is taking the title role in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell at The Questors Theatre.
Steve, who is one of the Ealing theatre’s most experienced actors, is relishing the chance to play the vodka-swilling, chain-smoking reprobate, as imagined by playwright Keith Waterhouse.
“I picked up a second-hand copy of the play a few years ago, and the role of Jeffrey Bernard really appealed to me,” says Steve.
“It’s a fun play, and as an actor it is always nice to get laughs.”
But how do you play a drunk on stage?
“I think the trick is not to appear too drunk playing the part,” says Steve.
“You have to have some variety in the performance, otherwise it starts to get boring. And if you slur your words too much it is difficult for the audience to hear the lines.”
The play is based on the inebriated life of a journalist who became as well known for his drinking as his writing.
Jeffrey Bernard penned the ‘Low Life’ column for the Spectator magazine. It was a chronicle of Soho life that offered his personal philosophy on vodka, women and race courses.
The title of the play refers to the magazine's habit of printing a one-line apology on a blank page when he was too drunk or hung over to produce his copy.
“Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell is a ferociously comic celebration of a life gone wonderfully wrong,” says the director, John McSpadyen.
As the play begins, Jeffrey finds himself locked inside his favourite pub, The Coach and Horses, after falling asleep in the toilet.
Resigned to spending the night with just a bottle of vodka and cigarettes for company, he recounts the story of his life and the colourful characters who inhabited his world. And he reflects on how his beloved Soho has changed.
In addition to Jeffrey Bernard, the play features another 68 parts, played by just four actors. The characters - the friends and acquaintances of Jeffrey - include hacks, wives, girl friends, drunks, tarts and sinners. The play requires some fast footwork by the actors and very quick changes of costume.
The play was first performed in the West End in 1989, with Peter O’Toole taking the lead role.
Since Steve Fitzpatrick landed the part, he has inevitably had his leg pulled by friends about being the right man for the job.
“I usually make the jokes before they do,” he smiles.
While admitting to enjoying an occasional drink himself, Steve no longer shares Jeffrey Bernard’s pleasure in smoking. He gave up cigarettes twenty years ago.
The play requires Steve to have a cigarette in his hand on stage, but he is confident that his role will not lead him back into the habit.
“I found it quite easy to give up cigarettes, so I am sure I will not start smoking again,” he says.
Steve, who is an English teacher at Harrow College, joined The Questors Theatre nearly thirty years ago. He has appeared in, or directed, around 50 plays.
He is hoping that his friends will join him for “just the one” in the Playhouse.
02 Oct 10 to 09 Oct 10 In the Playhouse