Edinburgh Fringe 2012
The juxtaposition of events on the eve of May Day in Padstow 2004 and the emergency call Mayday is at the heart of this personal story told by an accomplished storyteller in words, drama and physical theatre.
On the eve of May Day 2004 in Padstow, Cornwall, Tristan Sturrock went to the pub. He promised his girlfriend that he would have just the one and asked if there was anything she wanted (as she was five months pregnant, he was being solicitous). Chips were requested. Chips were promised. Some hours, and pints, later he remembered the promise – and the chips. On his way home Katie rang him, he sat down on a wall to talk to her, leaned backwards and ended up wedged between a garage and a wall with a broken neck.
Mayday Mayday is the story of that night and his recovery. The show is a tribute to all those who saved first his life and next his spinal cord. They include Katie, his friends and family but the core of the story we see is the expertise and skill of the NHS team who were simply doing their jobs.
The British Medical Journal described it as a ‘love letter to the NHS’ which suggests we are in for a rather sentimental tale of caring nurses mopping brows and fine upstanding doctors, being… well… fine and upstanding. Instead of which, Sturrock whirls us into a beautifully paced piece of storytelling and inventive presentation. By the end we have held our breath praying he would be found, smiled at the humour only paramedics can manage and marvelled at the skill of the neurosurgeon who put his spine back together.
Sturrock brings twenty years of acting experience with the Cornish company Kneehigh to this personal testimony. He has a thoroughly engaging manner and we warmed to him immediately as he prepared for his evening out. He holds our attention throughout with lightening changes of pace and mood supported by sound, music and a projected film of Padstow and the Obby Oss procession. He uses the simplest of props and set – a row of small items across the front of the stage including a toy ambulance and helicopter, a bunch of flowers, a torch plus a mirror on a stand that serves as a door, a bed, the operating table – and just once, as a mirror.
It is funny, moving, and accurate to the last detail. The complex operation that enabled him to walk again was clearly thoroughly researched – you could see the retractors going into place, the drilling and fixing of the pins, the suturing at the end. But rest assured, there is no actual real blood!
At the same time it is never sentimental; Sturrock points up some of the common failings of the NHS – the meal left on his bedside locker that he couldn’t possibly reach, never mind actually eat unassisted as well as his own frustrations and fears.
It is a heart-warming story and a wonderful tribute to the team at Derriford but first and foremost it is a very skilled piece of story telling and physical theatre by a first class actor. That is the reason you should see it.
Oh, and to remind him that Katie never did get those chips…