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Alice Dickerson

My Perfect Mind at the Young Vic

One man's extraordinary on-stage portrayal of his stroke and subsequent recovery.

Many sufferers of serious, debilitating strokes struggle to return to life precisely as was. Edward Petherbridge has not only done just this, he has also written a play about his experience. And he now stars in it.

Whilst this play has all the potential to be depressing or saccharine – or both – My Perfect Mind is instead an extremely droll and witty play. Petherbridge, a classically-trained British actor, was preparing for the role of King Lear when struck down by two strokes in quick succession. Whilst recuperating, he realised that he could still remember all of his lines as Lear; a character that famously turns mad on stage.

My Perfect Mind feels like a fairly unusual play. Two of its writers make up the whole cast. One plays himself, whilst the other plays a multitude of walk-on characters, who feature through the life of the protagonist. Paul Hunter met Petherbridge as he returned to the stage in his first role after the Lear that never was. An endearing relationship has clearly developed between the two actors, on stage and in real life, and this relationship provides the play with much of the humour and sensitivity.

In fact, this play is as much about the world of acting as it is about one man's life and near death. Petherbridge is a recognisable face but a name that is little known outside of the acting industry. His friendship with Ian McKellen, and the fact that he began acting in the shadow of Laurence Olivier, provides many of the play's jokes. But he has (as he would admit, in his self-depreciating, British manner) never reached their levels of achievement. There is much mockery of the luvvie nature of British acting scene; at one point, the Young Vic is referred to as 'breeze block', in comparison to the grandeur of The Old Vic across the road.

The play is set on a titled stage; emblematic of an unstable mind. It moves back and forth through time, as Petherbridge struggles to remember key events in his life. Yet the play is brilliantly acted, and extremely well written. Petherbridge has made a virtue of an unfortunate occurrence, and his play reminds us how great an actor he is.

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