A Voyage Round My Father, Wyndham's Theatre, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Wyndham's Theatre is not very big, but it's big enough for Thea Sharrock's excellent production to lose the cosiness it had at the Donmar, especially with Robert Jones's bare stage and dark-blue rear wall. The chilly feeling is not enough to subdue the charms of John Mortimer's gentle memory play, but it makes absences and flaws more apparent.

For instance, it's plain that the title role of the blind barrister is a one-note part. Derek Jacobi doesn't overdo the bellowing, and manages to inflect each scene with some variety, but all he is given to do is to loudly and comically assert his contained rage and indignation.

It's also clear that this play, first staged in 1970, is discreet and sentimental. Though the father is a maverick, he's a conventional one; he's also a bit of a handful, but he never fulminates against anything basic or sacred. His most shocking pronouncement - "Sex is overrated'' - is one the English between the wars would have thought tasteless to say but proper to believe. What, though, of Mortimer's mother, who is present at this unflattering assessment? She never contradicts him, except to say, with no effect, that a particular story is "not suitable'' for a child, and never expresses anger at having to be handmaiden to a tyrant.

Indeed, the father's blindness not only excuses but, like the short, sharp scenes, deflects attention from his moral and emotional failings - packing a very young John off to boarding school, for instance, and telling the frightened boy not to mind the masters, for they all have "second-rate minds". John's desolation emerges in just one line from his mother when she asks him, on a visit home, "do you take sugar?".

Like Jacobi, the rest of the cast beautifully evoke the essence of their characters and the period of the story. Dominic Rowan is too tall and handsome for credibility or much sympathy, but is charmingly self-effacing, and Natasha Little charmingly pert as the daughter-in-law. A Voyage Round My Father is pleasant but weightless; one never forgets that it is not only about a lawyer but by one, and that it is that profession's duty to keep family secrets.

To 16 December (08709 500 902)

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