There isn’t much funny about someone having a stroke, but Told By An Idiot’s comic look at the life of Edward Petherbridge draws humour from the most unlikely of situations.
Petherbridge was in the midst of rehearsing the title role in King Lear when he was struck down by a stroke, which rendered him unable to perform the role on stage in New Zealand, but left him remembering every last word of Shakespeare’s play.
Now the Olivier Award-winning actor stars in this hilarious two-hander that, despite not quite fulfilling his life-long dream of playing Lear, intersperses profound and powerful recitations of the Bard’s monarchic tragedy with enactments of his own autobiography Slim Chances And Unscheduled Appearances.
From his bitter experience of vignettes to anecdotes about Noël Coward, My Perfect Mind takes us on a poignant and witty journey through Petherbridge’s life, focusing on his acting career, the impact of his debilitating stroke and the rehabilitation he went through in order to get back to where he is today; performing on stage once again.
Spanning the 76 years of Petherbridge’s life, the chronology of My Perfect Mind jumps days, years and decades in both directions, taking into account not only the events leading up to the stroke and the recovery that followed, but also the days prior to his birth when, remarkably, his mother also suffered a stroke.
While Petherbridge plays himself for the duration of the 90-minute production, a performance that combines a vulnerable fragility with comic mutterings that give the audience an insight into the actor’s personality, Paul Hunter plays everyone else. With the aid of a menagerie of props, from a policeman’s helmet to a Roses chocolate tin, he teams borderline offensive accents with an inherent humour to bring to life all manner of characters, from Petherbridge’s mother to a taxi driver, causing raucous laughter throughout the auditorium.
The show isn’t afraid of mocking its own art form either, as the actors make jokes about how best to treat theatregoing audiences and question whether the tilted stage on which they are performing is incompetence or pretentiousness.
At times the production verges into stand-up, with audience participation to boot. So funny are the performances in My Perfect Mind that Petherbridge and Hunter would make two suitable halves of a very good comedy double act.