Real life father and son James and Jack Fox star as Roger Mortimer and his son Charlie — aka the Lupin of the title — in this comedy adapted by Michael Simkins from the bestselling book, which consists of letters sent by Roger to Charlie over a period of years between 1967 and 1991 as the son and heir went increasingly off the rails.
Mortimer senior was a decorated war hero and for around 30 years, racing correspondent of The Times. But Charlie, despite being given a start in life that many would envy (including an education at Eton), opted for a more hedonistic lifestyle. He frittered any privilege away on a series of wild schemes, dead end jobs and a life that became more dependent on drink and drugs. Even enlisting in his dad's old regiment didn't mark a turning point or a mending of his ways.
Bringing the reading of letters to the stage presents its own problems, of course, and it’s only fitfully successful here. The role of Charlie has been expanded to allow him to narrate events, while the part of Roger consists of him quoting his own correspondence or donning a funny wig or hat and mugging along as a variety of peripheral characters — a device that doesn't always work, to be honest.
Given Charlie's behaviour, his father seems to have retained a good humour about everything and consequently James Fox as Roger gets most of the best lines here. Roger was a slightly eccentric, upper class gent of the old school of whom very few exist these days. His remarks and observations about everyone from oddball family members to Yoko Ono, of all people, are gloriously lacking in any sort of political correctness, and his wicked and witty turn of phrase would be a gift to any actor.
Charlie on the other hand could easily be dismissed as an over-privileged oik who brought any misfortune on him self and for whom it is difficult to feel any sympathy. So it's testament to Jack Fox's performance that he at least imbues him with a certain charm, although Fox’s inexperience as a stage actor is often evident and his character feels rather one-dimensional.
So the first act is amusing rather than laugh-out-loud funny as both actors and director Philip Franks try to inject some life into what is after all a static subject. After the break the play takes on a more poignant feel as age takes its toll and tragedy envelops the family, and this change of mood makes for a more compelling piece of theatre.
In the end, it’s a play about love; the unswerving love that a parent has for a child and visa versa. The fact that both actors here are related gives the piece an extra chemistry, but in the end you can’t help feeling that while this is by turns amusing and ultimately very moving, Dear Lupin probably works better on the page than on the stage.
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