Cold Feet’s Robert Bathurst is out to lunch in a hilarious new play by poet Christopher Reid.
It’s a rare morning off for Robert Bathurst – rare because the intense, four-month shoot for the latest series of rebooted TV drama Cold Feet is hurtling towards a close in Manchester. But if he’s under the cosh, the thoughtful, urbane actor isn’t showing it.
After filming alongside Jimmy Nesbitt, Fay Ripley et al wraps, Bathurst will be turning his attention fully to his Fringe show. The Song of Lunch is a comedy about a lunch date in an Italian restaurant in London’s Soho that goes disastrously wrong, in which Bathurst and Rebecca Johnson (The Trip) play old flames.
But this is far from “straight” acting, nor pure farce. For one thing, there’s Bathurst’s delivery – some of it direct to the audience – of the piece by Costa Award-winning poet and memoirist Christopher Reid. The actor admits that, during an earlier outing in Chichester, “I lied in my marketing: I didn’t use the word ‘poetry’ once. I called it lyrical narrative. For Edinburgh I’m calling it verse comedy.”
To be very clear: the 61-year-old certainly isn’t rapping, but his rendition of Reid’s versified writing is, “part of my war on the poetry voice,” he notes cheerfully. “I can’t bear the fluting, high church Anglican vicar type voice you have to put on when doing poetry. This is nothing like that.”“I lied in my marketing: I didn’t use the word ‘poetry’ once. I called it lyrical narrative. For Edinburgh I’m calling it verse comedy.”Click To Tweet
Then there’s the production’s use of projected animations by cartoonist Charles Peattie. He and Bathurst previously worked together on a dramatisation of the Alex cartoons by Peattie and Russell Taylor, a financial satire with which they toured the world. As the publicity materials trumpet, in The Song of Lunch the new cartoons, “create a visual feast, illustrating both the action and the characters’ flights of fancy”.
Just as important to Robert Bathurst is the provenance of The Song of Lunch. Reid began writing it the day he finished writing A Scattering, a three-year project about the death of his wife. That memoir won the Costa, the first verse book to do so. An inspired and moved Bathurst has already performed a stage version of A Scattering for Radio 4.
“For Christopher, writing The Song of Lunch was a farcical diversion from the mood that had overtaken him with the illness and death, and the aftermath.
“So it’s a direct descendant of A Scattering in that, although it’s about a disastrous date at an Italian restaurant, it’s also a doomed attempt to retrieve a lost relationship. So the themes of love and loss pervade. There’s a comic element, but the poignancy and the sadness is still there.
“The whole project is a celebration of language,” notes this stage and TV veteran. “Christopher can express things which ordinary mortals can’t. I just adore doing it. A Scattering is very sad, but also uplifting. But The Song of Lunch is the funny one, so that felt like the one to bring to Edinburgh.”
Before that, though, Robert Bathurst has to wrap Cold Feet. He admits to relief that the comeback of the beloved Nineties dramedy has been both a critical and ratings hit.
“There seems to be an artistic purpose to doing it, in the sense that it’s not just a marketing exercise to fill in the hole that Downton Abbey left, which is what I was worried about when I first heard about it.“The whole project is a celebration of language,”Click To Tweet
“We’re older. The first outing, the first five years, was about people clinging on to their youth. And now we’re through that – but then what do you do? We’re faced with experiences and situations and pickles that we have no capacity to deal with. So it is evolving, like life is, and reflecting on it very cleverly and enjoyably. So it isn’t just rehashing the same old tunes.”