My Perfect Mind at the Young Vic
The classical actor Edward Petherbridge was due to play the role of a lifetime, King Lear, when he suffered a stroke two days into rehearsal that left him partially paralysed. Bizarrely, however, he was still able to remember all of his lines. This play was painted as a poignant study into that time in the actor’s life: a celebration of courage in the face of adversity. What unfolds is in fact a tongue-in-cheek, self-effacing series of vignettes on Petherbridge’s entire career, including his longstanding dream to play the part of Lear.
Now fully recovered, Petherbridge makes light of his own theatrical failures alongside his successes. The Fantasticks, a panned musical that only ran for four weeks (“Six, including previews,” notes Petherbridge lugubriously) is treated just as comically as Petherbridge’s work with Laurence Olivier at the National, or his RSC accomplishments. The time frame is as skewed as Michael Vale’s stage design, the action veering from childhood to learning lines for Lear at Petherbridge’s home in Hampstead, back to his mother pregnant with him, then to his life post-stroke.
Paul Hunter is the composed Fool to Petherbridge’s Lear, assuming a host of characters with comedic intensity including a Romanian cleaning lady, a lunatic German neuroscientist, a New Zealand taxi driver and a particularly luvvie theatre director, with dodgy accents acknowledged as “borderline offensive”. Hunter is funny but not farcical (although he strays close). Both he and Petherbridge earnestly mock the theatre world, parodying the pretentiousness of actors and directors alike. They do this even as they confidently tick a checklist of theatrical tropes: self-deprecating asides, ineffectual mime, using artificial wind machines and sound effects onstage. They effectively demolish the fourth wall, so frequently are their lines addressed to the audience.
Kathryn Hunter’s direction is light-hearted and clever, showing her as a tour de force on stage and off. The production errs more on the side of comedy than it does an emotional reflection on Petherbridge’s stroke – but that is not a disappointment, only a surprise. Petherbridge is dignified, pleasingly modest despite his illustrious career, and far sharper than he makes himself out to be. Shakespeare’s play is interwoven throughout – so really this is all a grand scheme on the part of Petherbridge to finally speak the lines that he knows so well.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
My Perfect Mind is at the Young Vic until 27th April 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for My Perfect Mind here: