Actor Edward Petherbridge was preparing to play King Lear in New Zealand, when, just two days into the rehearsal process, he suffered a stroke. Despite the extreme physical trauma Petherbridge stunned doctors by still being able to recite the lines of King Lear perfectly. Told by an Idiot’s production of My Perfect Mind is a comedic exploration of this incident.
My Perfect Mind is a two-hander in which Petherbridge (now fully recovered) plays his charismatic self and Paul Hunter interprets all of the other smaller roles within the piece. Hunter embodies a wide variety of parts ranging from a mad German scientist to Sir Laurence Olivier and even Petherbridge’s own mother. Hunter’s performance is very physical, oafish and exaggerated which complements Petherbridge’s naturalistic manner brilliantly. In many ways the pair mirror the King/Fool dynamic in King Lear.
Surprisingly for a play that is centred on a person having a stroke, the piece is highly comical, as it’s littered with witty one-liners and theatrical in-jokes. Many of the references within My Perfect Mind rely on the audience having a detailed knowledge of King Lear and of Petherbridge’s career. However, I did find some of the jokes to be a bit repetitive and they began to feel like groan-worthy catchphrases. There is no doubt that Hunter and Petherbridge are talented actors who are naturally funny, so it was shame that in parts their comedic performances felt a little strained.
The play takes place on a slanted stage; this exaggerated rake designed by Michael Vale is a source of comedy as the actors slip and slide around the space. Vale’s design could also be interpreted as a physical representation of the paralysis that Petherbridge suffered after his stroke. Another aspect of Vale’s set design is a mahogany chair at the back of the space that Hunter unveils towards the end of the play and instructs his companion to sit on. Hunter then goes on to explain that this was same chair that many acclaimed actors who had played the part of King Lear before him had also sat on. As with any canonical role, there is a sense of history and lineage that comes with it, not only was Petherbridge recalling figures from his own past but also ghosts of those that had played this Shakespearean role before him.
My Perfect Mind is a satisfying medley of Petherbridge’s theatrical memoirs intertwined with scenes from King Lear. It is clear to see that the role of King Lear is one that resonates with Petherbridge’s own life and suffering and consequently his delivery of King Lear’s decent into madness was tender and truly poignant.
My Perfect Mind is playing at The Young Vic until 27 April, for tickets and more information please visit The Young Vic website.