TWIST OF LEMMON – St James Studio, London.
In this one-man show, Chris Lemmon presents a charming account of the life of his father, Jack Lemmon. The show has all the glamour and smoothness you’d expect from a show about a legend of Hollywood’s golden era. However, while Chris promises to reveal “not only who he [his father] was to me, but really who I was to him”, the show doesn’t really examine the father-son relationship in much depth. Twist of Lemmon is undoubtedly sweet, and very funny, in a Lemmon-y way, but it falls short of being genuinely moving.
The show is full of interesting, and often hilarious, little insights into 1960’s LA life. Chris’s uncanny impressions of the greats – Gregory Peck, George Cukor, Walter Matthau – evoke a dream-like impression of life spent with movie stars. There are plenty of sweet little anecdotes which demonstrate that the likeable, yet clownish, character Jack Lemmon frequently portrayed on screen popped up in his real life as well. Chris even regales an anecdote of his own (an amusing misfortune at a golf tournament), to show that he inherited the Lemmon-y habit of pinging from good luck to bad luck but always coming out smiling.
But the portrayal of Lemmon’s life is dream-like. The creases and darkness of Lemmon’s life seem to be ironed out. This makes you wonder about how much of Twist of Lemmon is real and how much is embellishment. Given how important putting on a show was for Lemmon himself, it seems fitting that this biography should have an element of Hollywood smoke and mirrors.
Chris peppers the performance with a mix of twinkling jazz piano. There’s some Gershwin, Adler and Ross, as well as some pieces composed by Chris himself. As a pianist, Chris gives a lovely performance, and each piece perfectly complements the narrative. The photos and film excerpts are also well chosen. In particular, the clips of Étienne Decroux – a perennial influence of Jack Lemmon’s – are not only a delight in themselves, but deftly remind us of Lemmon’s pure passion for acting.
Chris’s portrayal of his father is flawless. Chris himself becomes almost completely invisible once he steps into character. This has advantages and disadvantages. It means that when the show touches upon Lemmon’s divorce from his first wife Cynthia Stone, or his alcoholism, and we suddenly remember that the man standing in front of us really is “little hot shot”, the story takes on added poignancy. However, because Chris’s portrayal is so good, the real emotion of the journey he and his father went on is somewhat hidden from us. Consequently, the show isn’t as moving as it could be.
The pace of the show is also sometimes a little slow. It would probably have benefitted from some trimming here and there. Overall Twist of Lemmon is a pleasant slice of Hollywood glamour, which is likely to make you laugh – but probably won’t make you cry.
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By Andrea White
1st – 18th June 2016
St James Studio, London, SW1E 5JA.