Told By An Idiot’s My Perfect Mind really is a very special show. You will not see another like it. It is a two hander, funny, sharp, theatrical and beautifully timed throughout, and it tells the tale of how Edward Petherbridge, one of our finest stage actors, found his way back to himself after a major stroke took away his rare chance to play King Lear during rehearsals in New Zealand, destroying the kind of opportunity that a classical actor in his mid seventies will have waited a lifetime for. To have it snatched away so cruelly must have been heartbreaking for him, especially as he would have been wonderful in the role.
Edward Petherbridge is one of my favourite stage actors. I have been an admirer, along with so many others, ever since I first saw him as Newman Noggs in the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby back in 1980. He has a delicate, mercurial quality on stage which is very unusual and engaging, the kind of actor who is able to be open and vulnerable while remaining completely in control. It is a very special gift. In this play it allows him to show us himself, both in the present and the past, and aspects of Lear with great technical skill and quiet bravado. It is fascinating to watch, self aware, nakedly honest and utterly charming. Theatre should be theatrical, but too often it isn’t. There are so many tiny moments that I will keep in my mind to treasure….. A red scarf flung round his face to conjure up Goneril- he will become more deft at this in time he tells us before demonstrating. A moment where we laugh and are quietly told that what he just said isn’t meant to be funny. His actors ego being challenged by a rather inept young girl “on the book” for the first time. His talent show appearance as a small boy. Small snatches of Lear where the line readings are perceptive and enlightening. I loved the way that his admiration for Gielgud- something which makes complete sense given the kind of actor he is- was contrasted with a gentle sending up of Olivier at one point, who was the kind of actor that Edward Petherbridge absolutely is not. This is a show which has theatre at its heart and it explores the particular qualities of stage performance, showing us what theatre can do.
Of course there are two people on stage and if he ever reads this Paul Hunter may be wondering why I have not mentioned him yet, but I think that he will understand. He gives a technically clever, beautifully timed and unselfish performance, playing all kinds of people along the way. He is there to showcase his partner on stage and it is a real pleasure to see, especially as he is a complete contrast to Edward Petherbridge in just about every way that you could mention. Their rapport on stage is obvious. Katherine Hunter has done a fine job as director and between the three of them they have really made something very unusual and moving. I don’t like using cliches like “heart warming” and “a celebration of the human spirit” but just this once I think probably I have to. I was so glad to see Edward Petherbridge up there, in a small space, just yards away from me and know that he has lost none of the qualities that make him such a special actor. This production has been revived for a very short Northern tour before going to Barcelona for its final date and I hope that Scarborough realises how lucky they were. I certainly do.
I also really hope he gets to play Lear. Now that would be something.