ROSIE HEWITSON reviews ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ at The King’s Head.
‘Why should I not publish my diary?’ asks the narrator of ‘The Diary of a Nobody’. ‘I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see—because I do not happen to be a ‘Somebody’—why my diary should not be interesting’. The reader of the novel – and the audience of Rough Haired Pointer’s play – is inclined to agree with the exceedingly pompous Charles Pooter.
Written and illustrated by thespian siblings George and Weedon Grossmith, and described by Evelyn Waugh as ‘the funniest book in the world’, the comic novel is no doubt well suited to stage adaptation. There is a theatricality to its punning, farcical humour—the comings and goings of Pooters’ friends Cumming and Gowing, their flamboyant son Lupin and a variety of servants, relatives and acquaintances—that easily transfers into slapstick buffoonery on stage.
The play begins with a whirlwind accelerated introduction to the Pooters as they settle into their new house. The company of four then proceed to take on over forty roles in one long, exhausting act, as fifteen months of diary entries are sped through at once. This has some hilariously chaotic results; eggs are broken, actors stumble from one role to another at the drop of a hat, and on the press night more than one piece of set was (unintentionally?) destroyed. The laughs come thick and fast as Pooter’s egotism and ‘gentlemanly manner’ is undermined.
However, at over 90 minutes long, the single act could have done with an interval. In places the production felt a little rushed, and some of the subtlety in the novel was consequently lost. Splitting the play into two acts would have given them a little more time to linger over the more nuanced humour, without having to rely on farcical momentum to get laughs.
A lot of the show’s comedy also depended on the cast’s ability to ad lib. This was sometimes hysterical, particularly at the aforementioned collapse of key pieces of set, although towards the middle this began to drag. The ‘panto’ tropes could also have been ditched; at several points, various characters invaded the audience, or invited them up to participate in the on-stage antics. Though it got some laughs, this jarred with the ‘silent dignity’ that Pooter attempts to embody.
This play triumphed when it stuck to its source. The black and white costumes and set, for example, inspired by Weedon Grossmith’s original line drawing illustrations, were a nice touch. All in all, a brave undertaking for the promising 24-year-old director Mary Franklin, yet this adaptation could have made use of Charles Pooter’s advice that ‘It’s the diary that makes the man’.
‘The Diary of a Nobody’ is showing at the King’s Head until the 14 February. For more information and tickets please click here.
Images attributed to Rocco Redondo.