Friday, June 23, 2006

Journalism: Cat racing and chronic alcoholism?

To celebrate becoming a proper paid-up filthy journo hack, I went to the theatre last night to see Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, a play about the legendary journalist and boozer (the title comes from the phrase his exasperated editor used to insert when Jeffrey was too drunk or hungover to write his column). The action, such as it is, happens after Jeffrey wakes up after closing time in Soho's The Coach and Horses, having passed out in the loos while the landlord was locking up.

It wasm quite simply, brilliant - Quentin Letts wrote that Tom Conti is too well-scrubbed to play Jeffrey convincingly, but I didn't think that was the case. His pissed aristocratic drawl, his alcoholic shakes, and his chain-smoking all work superbly. It's a very funny play - there's a great bit where a particularly hard winter has seen racing cancelled, and in desperation a friend suggests cat-racing in his flat . There's also Jeffrey's demonstration of Keith Waterhouse's pub trick involving a pint glass, a biscuit tin, a matchbox and an egg - "Lester Piggott tried this once, and the egg.. the egg caused £2,000 worth of damage!"

Jeffrey tells boozy yarns of waking up in racecourse ditches and urinating through letter boxes for two hours, constantly interrupted by figures from his past. Of the women, including four successive Mrs Bernards - the usual refrain is "You make me sick!"

It's also a very sad play. Jeffrey suddenly realises he's in the pub because he's been kicked out by his latest lover, and (like any good drunk in a bar) his stories take a maudlin turn. And suddenly it's all so tragic. The charismatic man, drowning his talent in vodka, is the ultimate figure of comedy and pathos combined. I imagine the contrast was even more apparent back in the days when Jeffrey Bernard himself could be found in the Stalls bar in the interval, slumped in a corner.

Anyway, next time my colleagues ask me to the pub after first edition, I might think twice. I'm quite fond of this liver.

3 Comments:

Anonymous galatea said...

On a drink-related note, may I draw everyone's attention to this? The second Pen Pusher party at the Commercial on July 20th.

Last one there's a French deconstructionist.

6/23/2006 3:46 pm  
Blogger hangthedj said...

Ah, pissing it all up the wall....a concept I unfortunately grasped with both hands.

6/23/2006 8:13 pm  
Anonymous random internet guy said...

Hurrah for the quite literally splendid musings of Galatea. Tis the very champagne of mundane.

6/26/2006 12:31 pm  

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