Tristram Shandy: Conception, Cock & Bull

Stephen Oxley

St James Studio

From 10 June 2014 to 14 June 2014

Review by Sean Brooks

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Stephen Oxley’s one-man adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman offers an insight into the multitude of characters and events that surrounded Shandy’s early years.

Published throughout the 1760s, Sterne’s work was considered the first modern novel by Virginia Woolf and has since developed a large, loyal following. The series is notable for its use of digression as a comedic device to add context and to bulk the story out.

This condensed piece sees Oxley meandering through Shandy’s conception, difficult birth and accidental circumcision utilising the digression device to detail his barmy uncle’s affair as well as his father’s bouts of melancholy.

Tristram Shandy is a physically demanding 90 minutes that would see any actor pushed to their limits to give each character its individuality. For the most part, Oxley pulls this off with ease and there’s a pleasant eloquence in his delivery. However, there are too many slip-ups that break the flow and rhythm of speech, inevitably affecting the punch line.

More importantly, it’s difficult to gauge the purpose of the piece for Shandy as a character is not particularly interesting enough to maintain engagement throughout. Supposedly a raconteur, he’s more a buffoon with little else to offer.

His purported charm borders on creepy and the verbose digressions, much like in the original text, prove more irritating than comedic. The whole piece feels like listening to an elderly relative recounting stale stories and continually losing their way.

Whilst other members of the sparsely populated St James Studio no doubt seemed to enjoy Shandy’s ramblings, it unfortunately did not quite resonate with my sense of humour.