Jeepers Creepers: Through The Eyes Of Marty Feldman | Theatre review by Steve Bennett © Steve Ullathorne

Jeepers Creepers: Through The Eyes Of Marty Feldman

Theatre review by Steve Bennett

As the Dad's Army characters take over half of Leicester Square for their premiere, a couple of hundred yards away, a less appreciated but no less talented bygone comedian is being celebrated.

Jeepers Creepers tells the story of Marty Feldman's career, in particular his attempts to crack Hollywood. It opens with him fresh from the set of Young Frankenstein, still wearing the hump of creepy assistant Igor.

Virtually the whole play in the intimate Leicester Square Theatre studio is set around the bug-eyed comedian's marital bed, as his ambitious wife Lauretta encourages him to cast aside his British self-deprecation and sell himself hard. She thinks he has the potential to become a powerful, wealthy mogul, far beyond being a comedy writer and character actor.

But he has no such discipline,  preferring to carouse and flirt at Tinseltown parties, a freewheeling hedonism that puts a strain on his marriage. Feldman's portrayed here as an infectious giggling drunk, of whom you would forgive a lot, even if his trait of never taking anything seriously further frustrates his wife. 'I'm the only horror film actor who needs make-up to look LESS like a freak,' he quips about his distinctive appearance. But it's jokes about the womanising that really put her back up.

Jeepers Creepers

David Boyle – who previously played Peter Sellers in Being Sellers – makes for an engaging Feldman beneath his mop of 1970s hair and sideburns you could insulate a shed with.  Though it's the director that will attract most interest, one Terry Jones. He wrote and co-starred in sketches in Feldman's BBC series It's Marty! alongside one or two other comedy credits – directing Life Of Brian, for instance. His involvement certainly adds an edge to lines such as Feldman describing Yellowbeard as '[Graham] Chapman's disaster'. 

In the end, of course, it was to be Feldman's disaster as he died soon after shooting in Mexico at the age of just 48.

There's a lot of biographical detail woven into the plot, as Marty and Lauretta relive the old times, from variety hall anecdotes – assaulted by a Scottish midget no less – to his TV series; from Bootsie and Snudge (should anyone remember that) to his disastrous pet movie project In God We Tru$t. Round The Horne, which he co-wrote with Barry Took, is  referenced with a cheeky bit of polari slang here, and the voice of villainous Dr Chu En Ginsberg MA (failed) there. But Feldman worries if anything he does can match up to his Holy Trinity of inspirations: 'Buster Keaton the Father, Stan Laurel, the Son, and Harpo Marx the Holy Ghost'.

It's perhaps no surprise that there's such focus on Feldman's CV since the script was  penned his biographer, and writer of a small library of comedy history books, Robert Ross. But the upshot is that the piece is more factual than emotionally insightful; as is so often the case with the myriad of plays about dead comics. 

That Tinseltown chews up and spits out talent is not a new conclusion, and the marital relationship is never properly settled, rows quickly subsiding into reminiscences. Boyle is better at the comedy moments, while Rebecca Vaughan as Lauretta is better at the marital angst.

The upshot is that we don't know what made Feldman tick any better at the end of the play than we did at the start. But it does revive interest in his work – and that has to be of value, as he left a tremendous comic legacy.

• Jeepers Creepers: Through The Eyes Of Marty Feldman is on at the Leicester Square Theatre until February 20.

Review date: 28 Jan 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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