Theatre review: Stuart: A Life Backwards
Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: Stuart: A Life Backwards at Underbelly, Bristo Square (Venue 300), reviewed by Susan Mansfield
In 1998, while campaigning to free two workers for a homeless charity who were wrongfully imprisoned, Alexander Masters meets Stuart Shorter. Masters is a middle-class, university-educated volunteer, while Shorter is a chaotic, loud-mouthed homeless man. Masters goes on to write Shorter’s life story.
This much we know from Masters’ award-winning book, and in adapting the story for the stage, Jack Thorne (a Bafta winner, most recently known for adapting Let The Right One In for National Theatre of Scotland) takes on all the pitfalls of a well-loved text: fans will want the play to follow the book slavishly, while the new medium demands a different animal.
Mark Rosenblatt’s ensemble production has two primary gifts: Will Adamsdale, who is a natural Masters, oozing well-meaning, earnest politeness, and Fraser Ayres (Nigel in the original production of Henry Adam’s The People Next Door) who is superb as Stuart; clumsy, loud, often gloriously inappropriate, but with an unfettered honesty which cuts through middle-class pretensions.
Structurally, Thorne’s play has some problems. He spends too long on the campaign to free the charity workers and on the scene in which Shorter and Masters discuss the book, which means that the backwards journey through Stuart’s life is more of a sprint, squeezed into the closing section of the play when it should be its driving impetus throughout.
But what the play does superbly is the clash of worlds: middle-class life, with its degrees and books and well-meaning liberal politics, and the world of those who, even as their lives are stripped bare, seem to retain a greater clarity about what matters, a firmer grasp on whatever it is we call “reality”.
That may help to explain why Masters is so fascinated by Stuart’s story – indeed, why so many middle-class readers are. In this way, Thorne turns the story straight back on us, who bought the book and will see the play. Why are we fascinated by it, and is that interest in fact much more selfish than it first appears?
MORE INFO: Stuart: A Life Backwards is at Underbelly
Originally published in The Scotsman