Comedy and tragedy – Shakespeare often drew a fine line between them and My Perfect Mind aims to do the same. While there is a lot going on, at the heart of this drama is an actor’s frustration at being thwarted from playing his dream role by a stroke and his journey to overcome it both physically and mentally.
Edward Petherbridge is a 76-year-old actor who the audience is introduced to by the only other performer, and co-writer, Paul Hunter. In one of his many disguises, Paul begins the play as a hilarious German lecturer and tells the crowd they are in their first class of their first semester with him. The subject the audience will study is the mind, and the first person they will study is ‘a fascinating case’.
The professor tells the audience they are about to meet King Lear, but he thinks he is a 76-year-old actor called Edward. He continues to describe everything that Edward thinks about himself – that he was part of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre, playing Newman Noggs in Nicholas Nickleby and that he lives in Hampstead. All of this is true and it introduces the audience to the star of the show.
Travelling through Edward’s mind, the crowd go back to his upbringing in Bradford and to his lessons in his local theatre school. We meet his brother, his mother and his teacher from the early days – all played by Paul. His mind also takes the audience to his time with Laurence Olivier along with other career successes.
While not chronologically ordered, the action builds up to Edward getting a call about playing King Lear in New Zealand. It is hinted that playing Lear has been his dream role since performing alongside Olivier years before in the production. Unfortunately, when he gets the call Ian McKellan is doing a tour playing the same character at the same time and that’s only the beginning of his troubles as the team he’ll be performing with are shown as uncultured incompetents . On the second day of rehearsals he is shown to be off and that night the crowd are brought into the hotel room with him for the dramatic climax.
While the stroke scene is well crafted, there is a lack of emotion here – perhaps because it’s too personal to the actor. The far more dramatic scene takes the audience back to the professor’s room. The order has reversed and Edward now believes he is King Lear. In this scene, the professor tries to rescue the actor from the clutches of Lear and it takes a lot of paint throwing and metal sheet beating for him to find himself again.
If Edward brings the tragedy, Paul Hunter brings the comedy as he performs a range of different fall guys who have ‘mildly offensive’ accents. While by the end some of the jokes are a little tired, the dynamic between the two actors is clearly one of respect and they bounce well off each other.
Is My Perfect Mind a little self-indulgent? Yes. Is it a little bit rough in patches? Yes. Is the depth of emotion missing at times? Yes. However, along with these things, it is also very funny and it’s very real in a surreal kind of way. The man on stage survived a stroke, worked hard to get himself back to health both mentally and physically and is strong enough to perform a 90 minute show where he speaks about it. Created by Told By An Idiot and directed by Kathryn Hunter, who has played Lear and the fool, this may not be the finest piece of theatre you’ll ever see, but it’s courageous, bold, fragile and it’s memorably different.
My Perfect Mind is at the Young Vic until 4th May. Tickets can be purchased by calling 020 7922 2922 or online at http://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/my-perfect-mind