Not-to-be-missed play blurs an actor's illness with King Lear's madness
Drum Theatre, Plymouth, until March 2
I suspect that one of the most difficult roles for an actor to play is himself. You often hear of actors being shy, of having terrible stage fright, or of only being able to perform when they are hiding behind the cloak of someone else.
So when classical actor Edward Petherbridge has a very personal story to share – he is crippled by a stroke while rehearsing King Lear in Wellington, New Zealand – he does so on stage in a dramatised version of events.
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He is, according to the German doctor who welcomes us as medical students to our first lecture, really King Lear but suffers from a syndrome which leads him to believe that he is actually an actor called "Edward Petherbridge".
And so the story unfolds, blurring Edward's own story with Lear's as he finally gets the chance to play great scenes from the Shakespeare role that eluded him.
My Perfect Mind is full of Shakespearean references – the title being taken from King Lear: "Pray, do not mock me: I am a very foolish old man, Fourscore and upward, not an hour more, or less; And, to deal plainly, I fear I am not in my perfect mind."
This play is devised and produced by theatre company Told by an Idiot – from a quote in Macbeth: "It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
The company's Paul Hunter stars opposite Edward in what Edward mockingly (but perhaps not entirely jokingly) refers to as his "one-man play".
Paul and Edward met, as they tell us, while working on the short-lived (and we're talking weeks here) West End production of the musical The Fantasticks.
Edward, between entrances, was telling Paul about his stroke several years earlier while in New Zealand to play King Lear – every older classical actor's dream, it would appear. It seemed doomed from the start – opening opposite an RSC production of the same play starring Sir Ian McKellen.
He didn't even make it to the stage. On the second day he suffered a stroke, and then another, and his speech, walk and movement were all affected.
In the same way his mother had been afflicted when she had a stroke just two days before he was born in Bradford.
Edward's mum is played, alongside every other role, by Paul, introducing slapstick and comedy to stop the subject from becoming too serious.
Lots of laughs are provided by Edward's poking fun at himself and his actorly ways, darling, his posturing and earnestness, his actor's enthusiasm for "business" – he uses a scarf three different ways to depict Lear's three daughters – his marvelling at this thing called "public transport" and his life in leafy Hampstead, "North London".
Magnificent, rich in content, moving at times and highly entertaining. Not to be missed