Friday, 27 January 2012

The man who fell to earth


Photo: Paul Blakemore

Tristan Sturrock has become synonymous with character acting in Bristol. He’s been a stalwart of the unparalleled Kneehigh Theatre Company for more than 20 years, and in 2011 he wowed Bristolian audiences as Long John Silver in Treasure Island, and as the Coram Man in Coram Boy. He’s an actor who draws exultant reviews, so much so that one or two cynics have suggested it’s now ubiquitous for Sturrock to be cast in a big Bristolian draw and his presence is predictable. To those nay sayers, I thumb my nose.

Yes, Bristol has no shortage of talented actors, thanks in no small part to the Bristol Old Vic’s Theatre School. But local audiences should consider themselves lucky that an actor of Sturrock’s caliber wants to keep coming back and gracing our stages, when he’s already got London and Broadway tucked under his belt.

Mayday Mayday is Sturrock’s first one-man show, which he’s been developing through Bristol Old Vic’s Ferment, and an earlier version of the show – Frankenspine – was performed here last year. Due to popular demand, Sturrock has reworked his cathartic production and it returns to the theatre’s Studio under a fresh name.

Mayday Mayday is fuelled by Sturrock’s experience of falling off a wall in Cornwall back in 2004… and breaking his neck. Facing paralysis, he made the brave decision to undergo a risky operation on his spinal chord to try and restore his movement. However, Sturrock insists Mayday Mayday is not a self-indulgent production: “The show is for anyone who’s ever had any kind of trauma or accident in their life or ever been afraid of it – and I think that’s most of us.”

Single-handedly manning the stage, sound and lights, Sturrock uses the simplest of props to welcome the audience into his home, his Padstow pub, to recreate his fall, subsequent ambulance journey, and long road to recovery in hospital. He also transforms himself into a few other characters along the way – most notably a jocular paramedic, and a theatrical surgeon – in a carefully choreographed, operatic hand-dancing sequence (yes, that’s a thing!).

At no point self-pitying, Sturrock is obviously humbled by the kindness of the nurses, doctors and surgeons who helped piece him back together, and of his family and friends for supporting him every step of the way. At several points in the production, Sturrock uses a repetitive device to remind audiences of the mundane repetition that his life in hospital was reduced to, when boiled down to two-hour components by the requirements of medical treatments. While mildly jarring to listen to the same repeated phrases over and over, it is a stark reminder that our discomfort at hearing multiple repetition is nothing compared to his extended hospital stay and the tediously endless rituals he endured.

However, the most exciting element of Mayday Mayday for audiences who’ve been thrilled by Sturrock’s villainous characters in other shows, is that we now get a glimpse of what the actor himself is like. And fortunately, he’s charming, witty, self-deprecating and thoughtful. In short, we care what happens to him. And we’re delighted that he’s made a full recovery.


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Mayday Mayday is running in Bristol Old Vic’s Studio until 4 February, and is suitable for those aged 14 and above. For more information and to book tickets, please click here.

To read an interview with Tristan Sturrock about the development of this show and about his recovery from the fall, please visit the Bristol Old Vic’s blog by clicking here.

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