The Diary Of A Nobody, seems like an odd choice for a theatrical adaptation. Based on the work of the same name from George and Weedon Grossmith first published in 1888, the relevance of the piece and its sense of comedy was completely lost on me.
The fictional diary details the life of Charles Pooter, a Victorian gent with ideas far above his station. Living with his wife Carrie and son Lupin, the play deals with their struggles living in high society. The only constant is that his mustard and cress seeds refuse to grow – attempting high drama out of the mundane. This is the point of the piece, but it makes for an unremarkable and banal narrative amidst farcical humour.
What’s more the narrative gets lost in comic chaos. In part this is due to the actors playing multiple parts as they jump rapidly from scene to scene – it certainly takes time for the audience to settle into the play’s hectic rhythm. As Pooter himself notes at one point after attending the theatre, “I could barely follow the play”. The script has its witticisms but mostly lacks comic punchlines, despite the actors offering knowing looks to the audience. Perhaps to compensate for this, the humour relies on bizarre characterisation, silly accents, cross-dressing and amusing physicality to generate laughs – something that quickly descends into silliness.
It starts well enough. The set and prop design from Carin Nakanishi is cleverly cartoon-like, its monochrome hand-drawn feel providing the perfect backdrop for the colourful characters. Jake Curran cuts an imposing stage presence as the eloquent Charles Pooter with excellent comic timing and Jordan Mallory-Skinner is more than just a one-note cross-dressing joke as Pooter’s wife, flipping from weeping to laughter with cartoonish ease. Other characters amuse, such as a spitting French waiter and an actor forever quoting Shakespeare, whilst a séance scene in the second act is a highlight. And there are a handful of genuine laughs peppering the play as a whole, mostly stemming from the juxtaposition between the on-stage action and diary entries narrated by the peripheral characters in quips to the audience.
Too quickly, however, it all descends into madness. The frantic pace of the production rushes by in a blur, with some action occurring to the extreme sides of the stage or behind poorly constructed props that’s difficult for the audience to follow. By the end of the production, the set is falling apart, whilst props, confetti and items of costume are strewn across the stage in a messy aftermath. It’s an exasperating watch that’s lacking in both polish and clever humour.
Watch: The Diary Of A Nobody runs at the White Bear Theatre until 21st June.