The Lodger has found a fond room in my head

Review by Paul Nelson


REGULAR Indielondon readers will be aware of my apprehensions when going to see a solo performer alone for an evening on stage when I don't know what's coming. With the best will in the world, the anticipatory smile freezes and the jaw gradually drops as I count the minutes to the time when I can get out.

Even worse are the evenings when I am told beforehand there is no interval, therefore no escape.

With all these fears, born of countless evenings in the theatre seemingly alone with a solo performer, I cannot tell you, nor can you imagine my delight in The Lodger, at Jermyn Street Theatre.

The play is amusing and serious, and is a drama as well as being a musical of sorts.

The dialogue sparkles rather like the writing of Noel Langley and indeed as it reminisces about the thirties and forties could well have been another of his funny novels about the West End theatre.

The story is told by an ex chorus boy, a Welsh one at that, who had been briefly a protégée, employee and companion of Ivor Novello (pictured above).

They meet when Tony, fresh from Wales and desperate to avoid the mines, applies for a job on the stage and catches the eye of the great man. He recounts all his adventures with the star and as the evening proceeds reveals parallels between Novello, Gielgud and himself.

All three men are gay. The police busted Novello during the war for having the wrong petrol in his Rolls. That may seem strange to the youth of today but to keep transport moving for the war effort, commercial and essential vehicles, doctors, delivery vans etc., were allowed more petrol than the private motorist was and it was dyed red. Anyone found with red petrol in a private car was arrested.

In Novello's case, as a flagrant homosexual in the eyes of the Establishment, the play puts forward the theory, probably accurate, that Novello's sentence, two months in prison, was an act of vengeance for his sexuality. The usual sentence for the crime was a £50 fine.

John Gielgud was arrested in a public lavatory and the Establishment, presumably gloating over his imminent disgrace, which didn't happen, merely fined him hoping that publicity would do the rest.

Now it's Tony's turn. He has been the victim of police entrapment and the play takes place the evening before his court appearance and the next morning before he presents himself to the court.

It has a very light-hearted beginning with reminiscences of Novello and here is where this evening with a difference really starts to leave its launch pad.

Part of the looking back is illustrated with some of the lesser-known Novello songs. Part of it is a retelling of some of the theatrical quips, camp, witchy, but never bitchy. Naturally for the more romantic among us, there are also a few of the better known numbers, and Tony performs these with such skill that the evening flies along and, you will not believe this, I was surprised and sorry when the show came to an end.

Garth Bardsley is an actor with a pedigree as long as your arm, and has a splendid God given voice. He can also act to make you laugh heartily even during the tender moments of the play and hold you almost in tears seemingly at the same time.

He even dances in the style of Buchanan and while holding the audience in the palm of his hand, entrances them and almost kills them with joy. There surely could not be a better way to go than enjoying a brilliant theatre performance.

With songs from Gay's the Word (it is suggested the title was a deliberate attempt to cock a snook at the establishment) and other Novello musicals, including a cabaret song I had never heard, the play includes We'll Gather Lilacs, Rose of England, If Only He'd Looked My Way, and has a show stopping rendition of And Her Mother Came Too.

Mainly however the play goes directly to the soul of man.

It is, you see, about loneliness and the theme is presented in an extraordinarily compelling manner. It ends with the isolated Tony revealing that his lodger, to whom he has been confiding the story, is a sham, literally a nobody. It is a superb twist to a fascinating evening.

The play runs until April 6 and I wouldn't mind going to see it over and over again.

The Lodger by Paul Webb, Directed by Sheridan Morley, Choreography by Irving Davies, Design and costumes by Gabriella Csanyi Wills, Lighting Design Phil S Hunter, Musical supervision Jason Carr, Presented by Stage Directions with Anthony Field at the Jermyn Street Theatre.
WITH Garth Bardsley (Tony).

See also: Dorothy Fields Forever (Jermyn Theatre review, click here)