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Edinburgh Fringe 2013

Stuart: A Life Backwards

HighTide / Sheffield Theatres / Watford Palace Theatre / Underbelly / Escalator East Edinburgh

Venue: Underbelly Topside


Low Down

HighTide Festival Theatre and Sheffield Theatres in association with Watford Palace Theatre, Dumbfounded Theatre, Underbelly and Escalator East to Edinburgh. Alexander Masters’ Stuart: A Life Backwards, written by Jack Thorne. Stuart Shorter is a chaotic, violent, motormouth homeless man from Cambridge. Alexander Masters is a reserved, bookish member of the educated middle-classes. Double BAFTA award-winner Jack Thorne’s new play tells the story of an unlikely friendship and of Stuart’s entire life told backwards by Alexander. Mark Rosenblatt, Associate Director West Yorkshire Playhouse, directs this major new production by double Fringe First winners HighTide and Sheffield Theatres.


Stuart: A Life Backwards by Jack Thorne is a smart account of an unlikely friendship between a charity worker and a homeless man. Thrust together when the managers of a shelter are imprisoned for drug dealing, Alexander and Stuart find camaraderie across social barriers. The play documents Alexander’s struggle with his own comfortable existence and unearthing of Stuart’s troubled past; how lives can bend and resist discovery.

Will Adamsdale (Alexander) was unfortunately unable to perform in the performance I saw due to a back injury. The company coped admirably with the stand-in reading from the script, the structure and content of the piece still shining through the delivery. In a way, Alexander’s characterization was also helped along; he seemed dull against the vibrant players in his life, his indecision about his private life heightened.

Fraser Ayres gives an incredible performance as Stuart Shorter – a demanding physical and emotional role. Ayres takes on the contortions of muscular dystrophy unfalteringly and inhabits each seemingly irrational outburst. A challenging character superbly performed.

The initial set-up of the protest to release the imprisoned charity workers is enjoyable, a great example of the gentle yet clear physical vocabulary used throughout the piece. This vocabulary is also used throughout in partnership with the set. Comprised from two metal structures which revolve to transform between bedrooms and offices, the set is also skillfully supported by the cast who appear as bookcases and shelves. The action is built up from the sides as the actors sit and watch the action and fetch props.

Ultimately, running at 90 minutes, Stuart: A Life Backwards is over-long, testing the attention of the audience despite the stellar performances. This is partly because the idea behind the script – to reveal the causes for Stuart’s violence and maladjustment at the end – means that the main body of the piece lacks an essential drama. The exposure when it comes is suitably shocking, however the large swathes in the middle concerning Alexander’s over-working and bad writing could be condensed to deliver more of a punch.


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