Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell
Bernard wrote the "Low Life" column in The Spectator. The play's title refers to the magazine's habit of printing a one-line apology on a blank page when he was too drunk or hung-over to produce the required copy and a substitute article could not be found before the deadline for publication. Its premise is that Bernard has found himself locked in overnight at his favourite public house, the Coach and Horses, Soho, and uses the occasion to share anecdotes from his life with the audience. A highlight of the play is a trick involving a glass of water, a matchbox, and an egg which must remain unbroken at the end of the trick. This trick is more fully described in an obituary of Keith Waterhouse in The Guardian.
Often remembered as a one-man show, but in fact packed with characters performed by a versatile supporting cast of four, Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell was a highly successful vehicle for its original star Peter O'Toole. The show opened in Brighton in September 1989, moved to Bath and made its triumphant London debut at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue in October. O'Toole also appeared in a later revival at the Old Vic. The Old Vic run was sold out and on 23 August 1999 the London Evening Standard published a 'Bluffer's Guide' to enable readers to pretend they had seen it: "thereby allowing dinner party conversations and watercooler debates to run their course unhindered by ignorance."
A filmed version of the stage play was shot at the Apollo Theatre with a live audience and was released in both full and abridged versions.
O'Toole was followed in the part by Tom Conti who starred in a revival of the play until September 2006 at the Garrick Theatre in London. The part has also been played by James Bolam, Dennis Waterman, Robert Powell and more recently Simon Hill in the Frayed Knot Production of the play.
The play’s American premiere was in 1993 at the Kavinoky Theatre in Buffalo, NY. It starred David Lamb and was directed by Robert Waterhouse, the author’s son. (Keith Waterhouse attended the preview and gave a single note, about a sound cue. He cites it as his favourite ‘out of town production’ in his memoir, Streets Ahead.) The team reprised the production in 2004.
In May 2019 the play was adapted as a one man show to be performed in the Coach and Horses, starring Robert Bathurst with the adaptation and direction by James Hillier. The production, running from May 7 to June 1, featured Saturday evening performances starting at midnight, followed by a traditional Soho "lock in" until 5:00 a.m. The sold out production was extended with additional performances.
- "London Theatre". Archived from the original on 2010-11-26. Retrieved 2010-04-15.
- Molloy, Mike (2009-09-04). "Keith Waterhouse obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
- "The Stage Review". Retrieved 2011-04-07.
- "Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell". BBC. Retrieved 2015-08-15.
- "Robert Bathurst in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell | Norman's Coach & Horses Soho | London's first vegan and vegetarian pub". coachsoho.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2019-05-24. Retrieved 2019-05-24.
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