Rodney Bewes on form, on stage

On the Stage and Off: Jerome K Jerome, Quay Theatre, SudburyRodney Bowes is a fine comic actor. At the age of 70 (which he reached on Monday) his craft and temperament seem ideally suited to portraying late Victorian middle class life as seen through the eyes of Jerome K Jerome.

On the Stage and Off: Jerome K Jerome, Quay Theatre, Sudbury

Rodney Bewes is a fine comic actor. At the age of 70 (which he reached on Monday) his craft and temperament seem ideally suited to portraying late Victorian middle class life as seen through the eyes of Jerome K Jerome. It's a sardonic, whimsical, satirical view of a world where self-importance and roguery go hand in hand.

On the Stage and Off is Rodney Bewes's one-man show version of Jerome's first book, which recounts his experiences as an aspiring actor in the 188os. It's recalled decades on with Jerome in his sixties and comfortably off.

Rodney Bewes is on a mammoth tour, taking his set round the country apparently in a trailer behind his car. It all turns into a conversational evening in which he plays not only Jerome and every character he meets, but breaks off to show latecomers to their seats with a torch, offers coughers a sweet, and gives little asides, comments and meaningful shrugs. All very funny.


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Jerome recalls the old days, recounting his efforts to get an acting job, meeting sharp agents anxious to take a fiver off him and sell him costumes wigs, and props. There are theatre managers, landladies, and stage door keepers. We have actors, from low comedy slapstickers and those regarding themselves as grand tragedians to pathetic heroines - all desperate for a 'call' on stage for a round of applause. Bewes plays them all.

There are old men, Londoners, Scots, women - a mixture of folk, good and bad. From them Jerome begins to learn what really underlies the glamorous world of theatre. We see the naïve, slightly crestfallen look every now again that Bob in The Likely Lads used to have. One is reminded that the success of that series owed much to the brilliance of the two young actors - Bewes and James Bolam.

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Bewes is superb with lists of objects, each item illustrated often with a hint of a mime. The high points are his set pieces - especially the story of the huge theatre basket Jerome bought, landladies hated, the railway charged him a lot for and he couldn't get rid of.

There's a slightly wan moment when Jerome is recounting playing in front of sparse audiences in the provinces. It could have applied to the Quay itself when I was there.

This was an engaging show by an accomplished performer in a gem of a theatre. It deserved better support. Those not there missed out, I promise you.

Ivan Howlett

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