Monday 26 January 2015


Theatre review: The Diary of a Nobody at The King's Head Theatre

©Rocco Redondo

Last year I visited The King's Head Theatre, London's oldest surviving theatre pub, for the first time for Neil LaBute's Autobahn. Up until that point I'd always been wary of a 'theatre above a pub' (or at the back of the pub, as is the case for this one) as I'd been spoiled by years of visiting the grand, ornate theatres that fill the West End. So I was very pleasantly surprised when I saw that the auditorium was a completely soundproof and separate part of the establishment, with reasonably comfy seats and an excellent view of the stage from all angles. The quality of the production too was much better than I'd expected, so when I received an invite to press night of The Diary of a Nobody at the same theatre, I didn't have to think twice before accepting.

Adapted from the classic serial by George and Weedon Grossmith, The Diary of a Nobody does what it says on the tin; it chronicles the every day life of an ordinary London clerk by the name of Charles Pooter in the late 19th century. Not an awful lot of exciting things happen to him, so the 'highlights' of his days include regular visits from his friends Gowing and Cummings, and watching the growth of the plants in his garden. It sounds like these events would make for a rather dull 90 minutes of theatre, but Pooter's musings are portrayed in such a humorous, farcical way that this play is an absolute delight to watch.

As soon as we walked into the theatre space we knew we were in for a unique experience; the set, props and even the costumes were all resembling two-dimensional pencil drawings, almost as if they'd come straight out of a sketchbook or a diary, of course. It was a very quirky and fun way to represent different places and items, while simultaneously ensuring that the focus of the play was on the actors and their extra-ordinary ability to transform the stage and themselves with the simple addition of a headpiece and a different accent.

And transform they did. The four actors portrayed an astonishing 45 characters during the play, sometimes switching from one character to the other within just seconds. It's a gimmicky approach to theatre and one that I have seen before, most notably in The 39 Steps, but that didn't make it any less joyful or impressive. It completely worked for this production and even when set pieces suffered from the speed with which the actors moved on stage (I'm still not sure whether some parts were supposed to come down or not!), it fit the over-the-top silliness the play was doused in and which made this such an utter joy to watch.

True to its name, The Diary of a Nobody didn't have a hugely original or even remotely exciting story to tell. However, the mundane life of Charles Pooter became a delightful piece of theatre because of a clever design, well-timed slapstick comedy and the astonishing ability of the four cast members to switch characters within the blink of an eye. The end result was 90 minutes of non-stop silliness that had me, and the rest of the audience, in a near continuous fit of giggles. 

At first glance Pooter's story may not have been worth telling, but theatre company Rough Haired Pointer has transformed it into a production worth seeing.

The Diary of a Nobody is playing at the King's Head Theatre in London (Islington) until 14 February 2015. You can buy tickets here.

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