Edward Petherbridge, 76, had two strokes just a few days into a King Lear run. Unable to finish it, he wrote this play instead, My Perfect Mind (after the Lear line, “I fear I am not in my perfect mind”), a crazy kaleidoscope of scraps of famous Lear lines and the moments during and surrounding the shock of the strokes.
Petherbridge has said the play is like “attending a seminar on King Lear under the influence of LSD“. In a sense it is, but then, the chaotic randomness of this Told By an Idiot production can also leave you wondering what it is you are actually experiencing. It is neither a paean to Lear, nor a simple intertwining of Lear fiction and Petherbridge reality.
It’s probably best appreciated as a collection of parts, some of which work better than others. As a gentle parody of the struggling actor and fringe theatre, it is delightful. Petherbridge, though in real life a successful veteran actor, is fully aware he doesn’t share the mass fame of the leading lights he’s had stage time with. He even jests he can borrow Ian McKellen’s (who he set up the Actor’s Company with) RSC soldiers for a crowd scene in Lear, as they only have five Kiwi locals. And he sends up the luvvie actor figure with an almighty thesp arm flourish, retorting to the laughs that, aren’t that really what arms are best used for?
Equally, this play knows it is not the grand Lear production its protagonist had hoped he’d be in (at one point, typical of its trippy Meta theatricality Petherbridge moans, “I don’t want to be in this production!”). The play’s funny self awareness of its limitations, a ‘pretentious’ slanting stage, a parody of mime (a mug appears from thin air, thwarting EP’s attempts to mime, “such a limited art form,” he sighs) are also its high points. But a slightly annoying sidekick (Paul Hunter), who doesn’t have the needed comic touch and frustrating glimpses of Lear scenes – not fully enjoyed in the play’s refusal to be serious – are its weaker points.
My Perfect Mind, if anything, is a homage to the actor’s life and this remarkable man who, after being struck down by one of the most dangerous, debilitating diseases has come back fighting fit. The fact he’s not just come back from this, but written about it with such humour, eccentricity and joy, is what we found ourselves applauding.
My Perfect Mind runs at the Young Vic theatre until 27 April. Tickets: £10 / £19.50. Londonist saw the production on a complimentary press review ticket by kind permission of The Young Vic