07 November, 2014


My Perfect Mind continues to garner stunning reviews in Birmingham.

My Perfect Mind is a unique and wonderful production by the endearing company Told by an Idiot.

With a previous success of Don’t Try This at Home, recently performed at The REP, this production is just as fun-filled and extremely touching.

It is a two-man show ln which, through the exploration of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Edward Petherbridge and Paul Hunter reflect a struggle between what the body is able to do versus the power of the mind.

The concept of the show takes inspiration from Edward Petherbridge, an esteemed and talented classical actor due to play the role of King Lear, but who suffers the effects of a stroke.

Whilst in the process of recovery, Petherbridge discovers that his Lear was not entirely lost. In fact, the role was still completely present in his mind. The moving tale resulted in a story never told before, and with playful direction by Kathryn Hunter in an imaginative style that is a hallmark of this company, it is a production that you won’t forget any time soon.

My Perfect Mind is a wonderful celebration of The Bard’s great work, but also sheds light on an individual’s determination, perseverance and tells us to look on the bright side.

The renowned and exquisitely talented Edward Petherbridge plays both himself, King Lear and any other character that bursts into his mind while Paul Hunter plays every other part in between.

Both actors work in harmony with each other to fashion an atmosphere of creativity and fun, setting off fireworks of inspiration. Hunter and Petherbridge invite us into their wonderful space with open arms.

Constantly talking to the audience they make us feel that we have an equal part in the company with the players. Amongst the laughter and fun, there is a story that is just as moving. Petherbridge and Hunter are masters of leading us through a journey of emotion as they relay the story of Petherbridge’s recovery, also staying true to the awe inspiring tragedy of King Lear.

Told by an Idiot celebrate Petherbridge’s past successes and current talent as we see a focused and emotive portrayal of Lear. Hunter captures our hearts and imagination as the narrator of the piece, including resembling those who have influenced Petherbridge’s life, and indeed the many characters in King Lear.

Petherbridge and Hunter’s on stage relationship is another element to the magic that Told by an Idiot never fail to produce. One truly captivating moment was during a portrayal of the final scene of Lear, Petherbridge playing the king and Hunter playing Cordelia. Both had an awe-inspiring understanding for each other to create a heart-stopping scene of intensity that stripped the audience of breath.

Throughout the production, the perfect balance was created with an enlightening artistic flare with the ability to move the audience to the height of emotion.

The performance space is a reflection of Told by and Idiot’s unruly imagination. The set is literally a blank canvass, allowing for their sparkling minds to thrive and play out whatever they like. Both actors make the set their own playground. At first the audience see a white sheet, but it soon becomes the embodiment of colour as Petherbridge and Hunter use it as a canvas for their imagination to run wild.

Told by and Idiot are beautiful innovators of art and always push the boundaries of the imagination. My Perfect Mind is a totally engaging production, constantly allowing the audience to feed off their instant creativity. As well as being an emotional exploration into King Lear, we see a wonderful piece filled with charm, laughter and fun. (Elizabeth Halpin, A View from Behind the Arras)

Precious sublime madness.

Some shows are very special; this is one of them.

In large part this is due to the power of the story being told. Edward Petherbridge was rehearsing the role of King Lear when he had a stroke which left him nearly paralysed. As he struggled to recover he discovered he remembered the whole of KING LEAR virtually word for word. But there’s another large part, too – the extraordinary wit and joy with which the story is told.

On the one hand you have a tall, rather gaunt, and elegant Petherbridge off-handedly relating parts of his life (including a phone call for an ambulance) and from time to time going into powerful extracts of King Lear. On the other hand, you have a maniacal Paul Hunter adopting a range of wild characters – frequently bordering on the offensive(!) to great comic effect.

The result is that you never know where the story may go next, nor what physical or verbal fireworks may come at you.

It’s truly laugh-out-loud time. Yet you never lose sight of the cruel twist of fate that underpins the play, nor the joy of watching Petherbridge performing, once more, in front of you.

The Lear storm scene is marvellous. Lear painting and splashing at the walls, with Hunter running between rain machine, wind machine and thunder sheet – a very unstill centre for the storm.

This is a multi-layered story; and the magic lies not just in the way this marvellous pair tell it, but in the way they do it too. (Alexander Ray Edser, Reviews Gate)

Edward Petherbridge is a fine old actor of 78 years.

In 2007, shortly before he opened as King Lear in New Zealand, he suffered a major stroke. His body was temporarily paralysed, but his mind wasn’t. He could still remember every one of Shakespeare’s lines.

He’s now fully recovered and sprightly with it – and is retelling his strange story live, on a sharply raked stage, with the “Told By An Idiot” theatre company….which has snuck into Birmingham Rep’s ‘Door’ this week, apparently by the tradesman’s entrance.

There are two Lears in evidence here. We get decent chunks of The Bard; impeccably acted by Petherbridge himself, with his sole stage companion Paul Hunter playing his Fool, his daughter and everything else. But there are shades of Edward Lear too. For it would be an evening of delightful, utter nonsense – if only it wasn’t largely true.

Director Kathryn Hunter (who has also played a notable King Lear) seems to have torn all the pages out of Petherbridge’s autobiography and strewn them haphazardly. The rules are binned. We get all the right moments …. but not necessarily in the right order. And the absurdity – to any student of the theatre – is hilarious.

Petherbridge slopes around like an addled old love [sic], taking the rise out of himself at every opportunity. He dispenses wonderful witticisms and about how he once reduced a reviewer to gnawing his own kneecaps; and how the best advice he can offer to anyone unfortunate enough to be cast as King Lear is to find a light Cordelia.

With a face deader than a pan, he describes once being offered a vignette; “which is one down from a cameo”. Then he chucks paint across the back wall and throws away a line about how it resembles “another bad day at the Ikon Gallery”. The Birmingham audience was in hoots of love and laughter.

His sidekick Paul Hunter, by contrast, dashes dementedly around…plugging all Petherbridge’s gaps. One of the most memorable revelations concerns Petherbridge’s Rumanian cleaner, who turns out to have been a lecturer in Shakespeare, back home. A wig and a Hoover do the trick. And when it comes to the climactic scene upon Lear’s blasted heath, the two men create a perfect storm with paint, props and old-fashioned sound effects.

There’s a casual spontaneousness about the whole show; yet it runs like clockwork and you sense that even the most outrageous ad-libs have been carefully honed.

It’s all marvellous, madly brilliant stuff; almost meaningless to someone who’s never been to the theatre, but an absolute treat to those of us who can’t keep out of them. (Chris Eldon Lee, Midlands What’s On Live)

The Bard backed by bound copies of Punch,
Shakespeare Memorial Room, Library of Birmingham
Photo by EP
Read Edwards interview with Steve Pratt for the Northern Echo, ‘Keeping tragedy in mind’.