The Man Who Lived Twice

Garry Robson
Birds Of Paradise Theatre Company
The Arches, Glasgow

Edward Sheldon (Paul Cunningham) and John Gielgud (Laurie Brown). Credit: Photograph by Eamonn McGoldrick

The title sounds rather like a Bond film and the bedridden, but still sharply dressed Edward Sheldon (Paul Cunningham) in his dark glasses, lying in his black lair does remind you of a Bond villain. The play is a fictional account of several meetings that took place between Sheldon and the young John Gielgud (Laurie Brown) in 1936.

Cunningham makes a real impression as Sheldon, a man who is blind and unable to move most of his body due to rheumatoid arthiritis. What Cunningham really brings out is Sheldon's ability to talk and to dominate the room, with humour but also with force, for he is a formidable character at times verging on scary.

Gielgud by contrast is portrayed with a disinct lack of confidence and as a rather exaggerated Hugh Grant-style apologetic Englishman. While one would expect Gielgud, then only just starting to achieve fame, to be in awe of Sheldon there is no sense of Gielgud gaining from the meetings as he is supposed to have done. The acting also looks artifical beside Cunningham's performance.

There needed to be more to Gielgud, he was an intelligent man and very gifted actor, whereas in the play he comes across as a bit of an idiot. His personal life it's true was messy but there should be a more subtle way of showing that. The music hall make-up which he is plastered with doesn't help either, especially as Sheldon is naturalistically made-up.

The skycraper penthouse with its grand piano, black satin and petals on the floor suited Cunningham's Sheldon well as did the musical director and composer, Ross Brown, accompanying on the piano as Sheldon's assistant Ernst. The songs were befitting the period, with Gielgud particularly singing rather like Noël Coward.

Also present was Sheldon's macaw Archie (Karina Jones), who added colour to the performance. Jones gave a great physical and vocal performance as the bird. Although her other part, Mrs Pat, was like Gielgud rather stagey, perhaps to be expected as she was an actor too, but it could have been slightly more believable.

An interesting insight into the eponymous Edward Sheldon, but a rather superficial narrative that doesn't shed any light on why Gielgud described the encounter as "one of the most amazing experiences of my life".

Until Saturday 10th March and then touring Scotland until Thursday 5th April.

Reviewer: Seth Ewin