Review by Michael Coveney | 12.12.01 (thanks Alison and Sarah)
After Privates on Parade at the Donmar, Peter Nichols week continues with a Christmas run of the author's first play.
Every cloud has a jet-black lining sums up the comedy's mordant tone. And Eddie Izzard, replacing Clive Owen, fits it like a glove.
Leaping to the stage as the harassed late 1960s Bristol schoolmaster, Bri, he starts in familiar vein as a stand-up, picking out miscreants, threatening us with "hands on heads" and a minute of perfect silence.
The play is a series of withdrawls from direct address - to us - into private squabbles - among them - as Bri and Shelia's crippled child, Joe, squirms in a wheelchair and subsides into fits.
The rough autobiographical truth of all this is well documented - Nichols's child died in her teens, in a home - but in the play Bri leaves the house, a subtle retreat Izzard judges and plays to absolute perfection.
His acting is a revelation.
I've seen him fail bravely in Marlowe, mess about oddly in Mamet, cruise bitingly as the most vicious comic of all, Lennie Bruce.
But the style of this suits him best of all, sir, and he gets the play just as right as Clive Owen did, with perhaps more natural warmth and a deeper sense of its pain and flippancy.
Despite those publicity preview shots, he never wears spectacles.
The corduroy jacket with elbow patches, paint-splattered casual wear - Bri's a frustrated artist, natch - is both ancient and modern garb.
And the special turns of comedy sketches that he and the brilliant Victoria Hamilton devise to keep reality at bay are despatched with cool venom and killing exactitude.
The rest of Laurence Boswell's excellent cast are still in place: Prunella Scales as the fussing grandma and John Warnaby and Robin Weaver as the ridiculed, caring friends.