Review – Wisdom of a Fool

Wisdom of a Fool – written and performed by Jack Lane – New Wolsey Theatre and touring.

In his day Norman Wisdom was one of the most popular comics of all time – starring in films that broke box office records and continually working both sides of the Atlantic. He became a cult figure in Albania – and was working right up to the age of 90. His comic persona of the hapless little man has been copied time and time again – and his particular form of physical theatre – originally made famous by the likes of Laurel and Hardy and the Keystones – made sure he was always in work.

His early life however was far from a happy one – and the deprivations of his childhood made him a workaholic – ever concerned that he would fall out of the public eye – ever seeking the adulation of his fans – always needing to be in the spotlight, and this driving force broke up two marriages.

Performer Jack Lane – a lifelong admirer – has developed a one man show that looks at Wisdom’s life in great detail while narrating as the man himself and all the other characters in his story.

My heart sunk a little when the performance started with an announcement of his death – nothing very original there – and the set – a number of items of furniture covered in cloths – told us very little about the settings of the scenes – or his life.

However – Lane has studied Wisdom in intricate detail – and it was all there – the mannerisms – the voice – the Pratt falls – and he has the same winning persona that can bring an audience quickly on side.

The first half was mainly a retelling of Wisdom’s early years – and although a brilliant portrayal of all the characters – the story is a tearjerker – and although the humour is there it is sometimes overwhelmed by the tragic poignancy of a childhood blighted by a missing mother and a tyrannical father.

The second half picked up considerably as we got into his glory years – his finding of the character ‘the Gump’ and his successes in film and on stage – and the songs that he made famous.

There is no doubt that Jack Lane has got under Wisdom’s skin – and his portrayal is spot on. As a vehicle to show the talent of the actor and the man he is playing – it is a total success. Whether is works as a narrative play – given an audience would have come with expectations of laughing from the start – is another question.

But having said that – this is a fully rounded and faithful portrayal of the man, his life and his work, and an incredible tour de force for Jack Lane as writer and actor. And a performance that I think Wisdom himself would have been proud of .

Suzanne Hawkes

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