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Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell at Studio Salford

Published by: Caroline May on 17th Nov 2010 | View all blogs by Caroline May

Jeffrey Bernard was one of the free spirits of fifties Fitzrovia, a drinking chum of Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, John Le Mesurier and the bohemian circle which later converged around the Coach and Horses pub in Soho.  His sordid goings on were chronicled in The Spectator’s “Low Life” column from 1975 till his death some 20 years later, and fellow journalist and imbiber Keith Waterhouse dramatised some of these anecdotes for a 1989 hit show originally starring Peter O’Toole.

Jeffrey, played by here by Phil Dennison, finds himself accidentally locked into the Coach and Horses overnight, and passes the time by reminiscing about the colourful characters he’s encountered over the decades (played by a quick-changing, quick-witted cast of four).

The first thing to say is that this is an absolute tour de force by Phil Dennison, who has us spellbound for two hours with his authentic but beguiling portrait of the seedy, alcoholic raconteur.  The whistling teeth, sunken cheeks and trembling hands are small but telling details.  The conversational and confessional style of the piece are so well-suited to the intimacy of Studio Salford - fittingly a room above a pub - that Mr Dennison’s Jeffrey seems to address every member of the audience individually, holding us with his glittering eye like a slightly more convivial version of the Ancient Mariner.

The supporting cast - Edward Barry, Simon Griffiths, Zoe Matthews and Samantha Vaughan - bring to life the assorted pub landlords, angry editors, bar-room philosophers, gamblers, boozers and wives that Jeffrey engages with during his sozzled and slightly existential existence. 

However when Keith Waterhouse tops and tails the action with a rhapsodic tribute to our eponymous hero by his old Soho friend, the poet Elizabeth Smart (played by Kirsty Fox), we realise that the play is a love letter from Waterhouse, not just to Jeffrey, but to the whole drinking, smoking, betting, fighting, womanising, throwing-up, throwing-out, passing-out, long-past culture of London W1.

Gayle Hare’s production for Organised Chaos is a fantastic achievement from a clearly confident young company and well worth seeing.


Evenings: 17-20 Nov @ 8pm

Tickets: £7 (£5 conc) from


Studio Salford (Above The Kings Arms)

11 Bloom Street

Salford, M3 6AN)



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