Writer: Jack Thorne
Director: Mark Rosenblatt
Reviewer: Ruth Jepson
”Did I make it about me, when it’s supposed to be about you?”
Stuarts’ line, close towards the end of the play, very much sums up what you’ll walk out of the theatre thinking after watching Stuart: A Life Backwards. It is almost impossible to watch this piece without realising that actually, it is supposed to be about you.
Maybe not at first. The story of one charity campaigner’s relationship with a homeless, possibly schizophrenic, part time junkie will rightly not describe the life style of the majority of the audience. A tale taking in a sleep out outside the Home Office, a hospital room, sheltered housing and many more doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that will resonate with your average theatre goer. It also doesn’t sound like it’ll be hilariously funny either.
Wrong on both accounts.
Stuart: A Life Backwards is an amazingly evocative, empathetic and ultimately entertaining show, which takes the audience on a journey which will have you holding your stomach because you’ve laughed so hard, then clutching your face in horror at what is being played out before you, before dumping you right back into the giggles. Writer Jack Throne has managed to create that oft only dreamed of thing – a script which balances genuine humour, pathos and moral discussion in such a smooth mix that you don’t even realise you’re asking yourself scary questions about your own opinions of homelessness, drug addiction, mental health and how any of it happens in the first place.
His words are brought to utterly convincing life by a cast of six. Four members fluidly change through a range of characters, each distinct enough from the last as to make you forget how few people are on the stage. Only two stay constant. Will Adamsdale, as writer and campaigner Alexander, is the declamatory narrator of the piece, and watching him grow steadily more obsessed and run down trying to solve the mystery of Stuart is a perverse joy for the audience. Fraser Ayres, as titular character Stuart, is simply awe inspiring. The physicality he gives to the rôle is wonderful to behold, and the walk, ticks and verbal nuances he imbues his character with are central to the immense immersion the audience evidently gains from the piece.
Go and see Stuart: A Life Backwards if you want to laugh, cry and eventually leave just a little more enlightened than when you came in. Then head straight to a book store for the source material – it’s guaranteed you’ll be hooked on Stuart’s story.