MY PERFECT MIND
The DOOR, Birmingham REP, Tuesday 4th November, 2014
In real life, actor Edward Petherbridge suffered a stroke while rehearsing to play King Lear in New Zealand. Not the most humorous subject for a play, you might think, but this new production from Told By An Idiot is gloriously funny and not shy of revelling in silliness.
A two-hander it features Petherbridge himself as himself and Paul Hunter as everyone else, making use of unconvincing wigs and even worse accents. Utilising some traditional mechanics of stagecraft (a thunder sheet, a wind drum, a trap door) the play evokes not only scenes from Lear but Petherbridge’s theatrical and personal memories, There are some cheerfully unsubtle plugs for his autobiography (available in the foyer!) and some frame-breaking asides that enhance the artificiality and theatricality of the piece. Events are not played out chronologically but a picture builds of the actor’s life and experiences. Petherbridge is both vulnerable and commanding while Hunter has never been better – he is a mass of comic energy from his Cherman achsunt to his wicked personation of Laurence Olivier.
It’s almost non-stop larks but there is also a thread of mortality running through it. Like Shakespeare’s great work, the play is about frailty and the deterioration of the mind but, unlike the eponymous king, Petherbridge is a survivor. He has recovered not only to tell his story but to crawl around under the stage and generally chuck himself around a bit. This autobiography speaks to us all: a stroke need not be the end of one’s personality, identity or indeed one’s active life. Director Kathryn Hunter handles the energy and the abrupt changes of time and location with the skill of a plate-spinner.
Gloriously silly, often touching but never less than intelligent, My Perfect Mind is one of those rare and remarkable pieces of theatre you never want to end.