A play about the Hollywood film years of an iconic and hugely successful British 1960s/70s comedian, promoted by a poster dominated by the smiling face of said comedian promised so much. A trip down memory lane; a reminder of some of his most celebrated, iconic moments; some laughs as well a glimpse into the private personality of the real man behind the public persona ‘the man behind the mask’ or in Feldman’s case, the man behind the bulging eyes. I was so looking forward to seeing Jeepers Creepers, especially as it was written by Robert Ross himself whose excellent biography of Marty Feldman: The Biography of a Comedy Legend has received great reviews and indeed is a cracking good read #Thoroughly recommended.
There was a great deal of confusion therefore as the audience sat in stony silence throughout Act 1, with genuine bewilderment at how unfunny and boring the play was.
Frankly had I not been reviewing I wouldn’t have bothered to stay for Act 2 (yes it’s that bad unfortunately) BUT we all hoped that Act 2 would perhaps bring some much needed wit or revelation. Hopes were dashed and things were as bleak and sluggish and charmless as before.
What on earth went wrong?!
Ross’s biography of Feldman is 303 pages long, with a further 59 pages of credits detailing every tv and radio episode, film, interview and writing he ever did. It is almost impossible to believe that the man who wrote this biography, and poured so much time and effort into so much detail and archive credits, could make such a dismal job writing a play. And it is baffling that Terry Jones, one of the founding members of Monty Python and a writer himself, should have directed this travesty and presumably thinks it’s good? As for the set it was dismal. At one point Feldman talks about staying in a ‘5 star hotel delivering 3 star service’. Truly the bed looked little better than a youth hostel.
Bill Oddie is quoted on the cover of Ross’s Feldman biography as “…a fine writer, an invaluable comedy historian and an all-round good chap.” The biography itself has received 4 and 5 reviews including:
“Feldman was a rare man that will never be repeated, and thanks to Robert Ross, no one has to forget him.” –The Daily Rotation
“Marty was a grand talent. A comedic writing and acting legend that may never again be matched in terms of content and volume alone. Robert Ross’ love of the subject allowed you to get to know this troubled and tortured soul.” –Killer
“If you are a Feldman fan or just have an interest in learning more about a comedy genius, I strongly advise you to pick up a copy.” –Retroist
The biography reviews are completely at odds with his play and sadly, on the evidence of Jeepers Creepers, Ross’s writing skills are immediately called into question and clearly demonstrate that writing a cracking biography does not automatically translate into writing a good play. Ross’s dialogue is lethargic, uninspired and most surprisingly of all, completely devoid of any wit or charm whatsoever. Moreover there is NOTHING of Feldman’s legacy that Ross champions so passionately and with such detail in his biography. Anyone seeing Jeepers Creepers knowing nothing about Marty Feldman, would be forgiven for leaving wondering what 1970s audiences perceived as ‘comedy’ and how he could by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as ‘a cultural icon’ or ‘comedy legend’.
Feldman, played David Boyle, comes across as a boring, insecure, drunken slob, devoid of any charm or much talent. It’s pretty much taken as read now that comedians ‘off stage’ are insecure, moody, probably narcissistic and constantly needing reassurance and accolades from those around them. Totally exhausting. But there must be SOME charm or charisma or something that keeps long-suffering spouses in their lives and causes other women to pursue them in hotel rooms around the country/world? It’s difficult to believe that Feldman’s elegant, glamorous wife Lauretta, played intensely and as well as she could be by Rebecca Vauchan, given the turgid limitations of the script and the mountain of herbal cigarettes she was required to smoke, would stay with the absolute charmless, drunken slob on show here. Even for the money and Hollywood lifestyle she craved.
It is possible to write plays about comedians that reveal their darker selves, yet still celebrate their iconic genius and make you leave reminded of what made them great, as well as revealing their fatal flaws. Alex Lowe’s The Man Called Monkhouse at Edinburgh last summer managed to portray the best of Monkhouse as well as his inner angst, with an energised script, plenty of wit and laughs along the way, as well as darker moments and poignant reflections.
Simon Cartwright as the actor who portrayed Monkhouse also won critical acclaim for ‘a superb impersonation’ and before his death, Bob Monkhouse said of Cartwright “You do me better than I do.” Audiences were buzzing as they left this. At Jeepers Creepers the audience was yawning throughout and there was absolutely no buzz whatsoever at the end.
It’s astounding and disheartening indeed that Jeepers Creepers fails on every level to portray the unique, quirky, originality of Marty Feldman, nor inform about the man behind the comedy.
A huge disappointment and a complete wasted opportunity. There is no pleasure in writing this at all ~ I was truly so looking forward to it. I hope The Museum of Comedy quickly remedies this appalling state of affairs and commissions a re-write or a new play that will truly celebrate and inform about the life and work of Marty Feldman. Robert Ross’s book is an excellent biography but this play desperately needs a new writer.
Review by Catherine Françoise
Written by Marty’s best-selling biographer Robert Ross, and directed by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, Jeepers Creepers stars David Boyle (Being Sellers, The Fool Who Dared to Dream) and Rebecca Vaughan (Austen’s Women, I, Elizabeth).
29th January to 20th February 2016