Fringe Box



Stage Dragon: Wisdom Of A Fool At The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 14 Feb, 2016
Updated on: 14 Feb, 2016

By Ferenc Hepp

Think No Evil of Us: My Life with Kenneth Williams, Morecambe… there have been quite a number of one-man shows portraying the life and works of comedians from the classic era doing the rounds recently.

But Wisdom of a Fool, performed by Jack Lane at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, is something very different to what you may have seen in the past.

YAT MAIN STAGE Wisdom of a Fool

Jack Lane as Norman Wisdom in Wisdom of a Fool.

It opens with an obituary to Norman Wisdom, but is soon interrupted in typical Wisdom fashion by Lane who demands the opening titles to roll. His physicality, way of speaking, and facial expressions are uncanny and he already throws himself around the stage in a very athletic manner within the first ten minutes of the play.

No wonder Charlie Chaplin called Wisdom his ‘favourite clown’. Does this mean that he has no energy left for the rest of the show? Certainly not.

Act One portrays Wisdom’s early life, when things have not been easy for him.

We see his violent relationship with his father, his mother leaving the family home, and him being taken into care, when he thinks “life has finally started improving”.

During the show Lane plays over 30 characters and he manages to portray each of these with suitable sentiment, individuality and lots of humour.

A couple of my favourite characters in fact are the guy at the Labour Exchange, and the Welsh theatre manager, both of whom were approached by Wisdom for jobs, but he just could not keep any of them, and being sacked became a regular occurrence: “I was getting through jobs faster than a Max Miller punchline!” – a reference possibly relevant to the more ‘experienced’ members of the audience.

Wisdom’s father must have played a very significant and sad part in his life, as he points out: “I don’t have a single happy memory of my father” and the first time the lights were dimmed since the start of the show was when he described the moment he saw his father for the last time.

However, this production is far from doom and gloom. In the second half we see Lane continuing with the physical humour as Wisdom realises that he wants to get into show business, has discussions with various agents, manages to get a prime slot thanks to the generosity of Vera Lynn and tries his hand at the movies.

One of the most poignant moments of the show occurs in this half when Lane finally puts on the actual Gump Suit that was worn by Norman Wisdom himself and the cap with the peak turned up which we are so used to seeing him in.

This is a very special moment indeed and Lane quite rightly takes his time to change into this outfit, handling it expertly, with just the right amount of emotion and sentiment.

We see Wisdom as a troubled boy, as a family man, as a struggling actor and as a brilliant entertainer, singer and a film star.

Norman’s son (Nick) and daughter (Jacqueline) have given their full blessing to this production from the start and I can see why.

Jack Lane (who had no formal training) entertains, makes us cry, makes us laugh and uses the limited amount of props to tell Norman Wisdom’s story in a very emotional and unique manner.

The people who I was with that night agreed with me that we were treated to something inspirational, jaw-dropping and an intense piece of theatre which has something for all generations, whether they are familiar with Wisdom or not.

A mention must also be given to David Phillips for a very effective lighting design and Daniel Barnes for his creative sound design.

Jack Lane is continuing his tour of the show round the country and venues are being added regularly, therefore I would recommend keeping up-to-date with developments and tour dates via: and try and catch this if you possibly can. I assure you that you will not be disappointed.

Star rating 5

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