Stuart: A Life Backwards

Jack Thorne

HighTide

Underbelly, Bristo Square

From 31 July 2013 to 26 August 2013

Rating: ***

Review by Philip Fisher

This multiple co-production should prove popular, with Will Adamsdale in the cast, a script written by Skins regular Jack Thorne and its original source an award-winning biography. Visitors may also remember the film with Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy.

In fact, the real reason for visiting this new Underbelly venue is a stand-out performance by Fraser Ayres in the title role.

His task isn’t easy, since Stuart Shorter is a down-and-out drug addict with a healthy criminal record and dangerous tendencies. He also suffers from muscular dystrophy.

Following the jailing of a couple of social workers, the opinionated Stuart started to support perpetual student, Adamsdale’s Alexander Masters, in a series of protests.

Surprisingly eloquent, the homeless man soon takes over the campaign. He also worms his way into homes and beds with alacrity.

Through the first half of 90 minutes under the direction of Mark Rosenblatt, it is hard to empathise with either the unruly Stuart or the ineffectual Alexander.

Sadly, it is the protagonist’s death that provides a jumping off point, Masters picking up on Stuart’s suggestion of writing his life from grave to cradle.

Now, we begin to learn what made this oddity into the character that he was, crippling illness combining with abuse to blight a childhood that was never likely to be happy.

There is a genre that involves biographers writing themselves into the lives of their subjects. At its best, say in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van, this adds to the experience.

Perhaps because Alexander Masters as portrayed here is such a bland figure, one inevitably wonders whether a straight telling of a minor life might have been more effective? Even so, with Ayres in the vanguard, we do begin to learn about what life as Stuart might have been like.