Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell - The Coach and Horses
Keith Waterhouse’s play returns home
Last orders are called and the lights dim at the infamous Coach and Horses in Soho and a beleaguered Jeffrey Bernard stumbles down the steps behind the bar. It’s 5 a.m. and not for the first time he has fallen asleep in the bog and finds himself locked in, the drink his solitary company. Over an hour he regales his life to us, the gambling, the career and the multitude of failed marriages. Bernard is a broken man, formed of a time gone by but resolute and unperturbed by the inevitable change shifting around him.
Robert Bathurst returns to the role and the fabled pub alongside director James Hillier having adapted Keith Waterhouse’s play for the venue back in 2019. It feels as though Bathurst has never left, at home at the bar or weaving through the furniture, a glass forming a permanent fixture in his hand. He embodies the seasoned drinker with ease, the ever so slightly slurred words and stumbles organic and in step with the countless visits to the mounted Smirnoff bottle. His talent for storytelling is engrossing, the dry, sarcastic humour is rib-tickling and unapologetic but equally devoid of empathy as Bernard rejects convention, more comfortable in his own hazy existence.
The Coach and Horse, now the only imaginable place for this play to be performed seeing as it is the exact pub Waterhouse chose to place the besieged columnist, is a little cramped, to say the least. Chairs are like gold dust and Bathurst has narrow strips of carpet to navigate that ever so slightly restricted the directional choices and his performance. Nonetheless, he makes the best of the overflowing pub, revelling in reeling off anecdotes and tangents to the assembled crowd, reminiscent of winding folk stories being exchanged over fireplaces.
Jeffrey Bernard is indeed unwell. His cynicism and addiction feed one another and a sense of pity for the man is inevitable as the cracks in his worn and humorous exterior make themselves known. The evening is wry and funny thanks to Waterhouse’s pointy script and Bathurst’s bitterly charming performance, but Jeffrey is one of a dying breed that found a home in old Soho. Though the play is now decades old and the real Jeffrey Bernard has long departed there is a slither of timelessness, heightened by the immersive setting, that speaks out still.
Running until 21st November - Tickets
Photography - Tom Howard