Apollo Theatre’s latest run is a two-hander starring Patrick ‘Star
Trek’ Stewart and Joshua ‘Dawson’s Creek’ Jackson. Stewart plays
Robert, a washed-up yet still passionately dedicated actor and Jackson
a talented young actor paying his dues in appalling plays before
hitting the bigtime.
We observe this odd couple over a
season of theatre as they appear in numerous plays of varying degrees
of awfulness, an inspired device which allows us to see them in an
array of startling costumes including medieval knights, surgeons and
World War I recruits. Stewart in a spectacularly unflattering
ginger wig is not to be missed, nor is the curly silver bouffant that
he postures magnificently with in a mint blue frockcoat and absurdly
flamboyant white corsage.
The relationship between the
two actors is at the core of the play and progresses from an initial
polite tension to outright discord, culminating in a particularly
bitchy incident involving a handtowel. Nonetheless, the characters
never completely lose affection for one another, bound together as they
are by a mutual understanding of the struggle of a life in the theatre.
turns in an outstanding performance, frequently hilarious and touching
as the seasoned performer whose long career has somehow passed by in a
flurry of bad roles. His chance to make it has gone and the play
depicts his struggle in coming to terms with this as he watches his
young co-star’s career skyrocket.
Jackson makes his
west end debut with panache; it’s no mean compliment to say that he
manages to hold his own as Stewart’s straight man without being
overshadowed. Indeed, he appears to be quite an attraction to the
paying audience, not least because he spends a great deal of time on
stage wearing only a tiny pair of polka-dot underpants. Several
lines were rendered inaudible during these scenes by the creaking of
seats as the female half of the audience jostled for a better view.
During a swordfight scene, a girl at the end of my row shrieked
breathlessly, "Oh! He’s left-handed!"
Joshua-adulation aside, A Life in the Theatre provides an insightful,
comi-tragic, hugely enjoyable evening. The play runs until the
end of March at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue.