THEATRE / Ordinary people: Paul Taylor on Patricia Routledge in Mr and Mrs Nobody at Greenwich Theatre

It's been reported that when Patricia Routledge went to Buckingham Palace recently to collect her OBE, the Queen, after investing her with the honour, enquired, 'Are you anything to do with television?' If true, this is a rich case of life imitating art; it's just the sort of comic social come-uppance that would be likely to befall those status-conscious characters that have become the actress's stock-in-trade, from Alan Bennett's Miss Schofield (the humble photo-copier attendant who has illusions of being the office lynchpin) to Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced, she'd like to believe, Bouquet) in Keeping Up Appearances. The great difference, of course, is that they would be incapable of seeing the joke.

It's thus to the manner born that Routledge assumes the role of Carrie, wife of Charles Pooter, the 1880s City clerk with the over-developed sense of his own consequence whose misadventures, while trying to become a byword for respectability in suburban Holloway, are recorded in The Diary of a Nobody. Ten years back, Keith Waterhouse hit on the excellent idea of 'ghosting' Mrs Pooter's Diary to give her account of the same period. His play, Mr and Mrs Nobody, now revived by Matthew Francis, is an interweaving of this version with the Grossmith brothers' original.

A white-faced scivvy scurries anxiously about the excellent set, dropping a tired curtsey to the audience every time Carrie refers to her grandiosely as 'my maid'. But the work is essentially a two-hander, a perky parallel text in which all the other folk (including Lupin Pooter, the uppish, worrying son) are either imagined characters or, at times, impersonated by the Pooters. Not an inherently dramatic set-up, it's true, but the piece draws its life, in part, from the couple's comic competition for our attention (Clive Swift's splendid Pooter regularly unable to get a word in edgeways as Routledge rattles on); and, in part, from the discrepancies between his complacent account of his humdrum life (with the famous bath-painting episode, the mishaps at the Lord Mayor's ball, and its aftermath, etc) and cleverer Carrie's slyly subversive gloss on it and her occasional withering asides.

Routledge times the waspishness of these marginal comments with her usual expertise, and you certainly feel that here is a woman whose nose would rarely be out of Lady Cartmell's Vadi-Mecum for the bijou household. But gurgling and clucking with fond laughter the while, she's in danger of making Carrie too roguish and easily lovable. She strikes deeper notes in those moments that Waterhouse, peering between the lines of the original version, has invented for the character - such as Carrie's secret yearning to return to Peckham, an ambition ironically dashed by the 'happy' ending, so that the line, 'On arriving home I found Carrie crying with joy', becomes yet another example of Pooter's short-sightedness and self-satisfaction.

Both actors grasp the main point: that through all the indignities, these figures must retain an essential dignity, being decent folk by their own lights. This well- staged, enjoyable production vindicates Francis's Christmas policy at Greenwich: that traditional but non-Christmassy pieces can provide the most festive fare.

Continues at Greenwich Theatre (Box office: 081-858 7755).

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn