by Lynn Marie Macy · June 19, 2015
Paul Hunter, Edward Petherbridge | Manuel Harlan
Upon entering the theatre at 59 E 59 the audience will know they are in for an exhilarating ride. Dedicated to the “utterly theatrical” UK producer Told By An Idiot has conceived and created My Perfect Mind based upon the real life experience of UK Classical Actor Edward Petherbridge who suffered a stroke during rehearsals of King Lear in Wellington New Zealand. From the onset the boundaries of reality and fiction are tossed about like a cannon ball into crockery. Is actor Edward Petherbridge suffering from delusions of believing himself to be Shakespeare’s King Lear - or is King Lear suffering from the delusion that he is “tawdry” actor Edward Petherbridge who lives in West Hampstead and who boasts a storied career of theatrical triumphs? (Including originating Guildenstern in Stoppard’s Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Newman Noggs in the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby.) Or are we engaged in the mind of an artist struggling valiantly to regain control of his life in a most unorthodox and public manner - or - most likely, all of the above?
My Perfect Mind explores the irony of Petherbridge’s suffering his stroke while preparing for Lear, a character terrified of going mad and losing his grip on his identity. This irony is not lost on any of these remarkable artists. The piece is assembled with a non-linear structure, which enhances the disjointed sense of pulling one’s life back together post brain injury or piecing together a theatrical puzzle of past and present. Painful memories and happy moments collide into a jumble of confusion and clarity. Actor Paul Hunter portrays numerous characters in Petherbridge’s life including himself, Petherbridge’s mother, his doctors (real and fictitious), his cleaning woman, a taxi driver, The Artistic Director in New Zealand and Laurence Olivier. Hunter seemingly leading Petherbridge through the scenes of his life like a barmy elf. Hunter also plays several characters in Shakespeare’s play King Lear that itself becomes part of Petherbridge’s rehabilitation along with expressive painting and physical therapy. Key is when Hunter finally assumes the role of the fool, (which he has been playing all along with great humor, pathos and wit.)
“Lear: Who is it that can tell me who I am?
Fool: Lear’s Shadow”
This fascinating and fresh play is a sideways study of a complex human experience. The actors humorously ponder whether it is “slapdash or pretentious” – two sides of the same coin according to Petherbridge. The show is directed, co-developed and creatively staged by Kathryn Hunter (who herself has played Lear) on an awkwardly raked stage -- indeed our introduction to Petherbridge upon seeing the rake is “I am so disappointed, we were promised by now a level playing field”. The set also includes trap doors, hanging thunder sheets, large blank canvases and yes cannon balls and crockery – all which play a part in the storm to come. The set designed by Michael Vale works on multiple levels as it offers the audience a visual sense of reality being askew while providing the Director and performers a playground of theatrical staging opportunities. Alex Wardle’s lighting and Gregory Clarke’s sound also enhance the wonderfully warped production values.
Nearing his 80th birthday Petherbridge is a master of the understated verbal twist. His performance is self-depreciating, funny, touching and we ultimately rejoice in his recovery as well as relate to his contemplation and ultimate acceptance of self “It must all go down to the primeval mud, from whence we all come” he says while discussing a family trip to the graveyard of his forbears. Oh and because Told By An Idiot also “takes its comedy seriously” this script will keep you laughing throughout for it is chock full of clowning, quips and theatrical jokes – some of which are perhaps “borderline offensive”. But art is nothing if not pushing boundaries of every kind. If Petherbridge ever has the opportunity to complete his conquest of King Lear I would advise being first in line to purchase a ticket!