IT WAS in the early hours of May Day 2004 that Kneehigh Theatre Company’s Tristan Sturrock, on his way home from the pub, fell backwards off a wall and broke his neck.
While he lay in hospital paralysed, his girlfriend Katy Carmichael – who directs him in this one-man show – was at their home in Padstow, five months pregnant with their first child.
In hospital, he faced a choice: 18 months in a cage-like halo brace to allow the broken vertebra to heal naturally, or surgery, which carried a small but present risk of permanent paralysis, or even death.
The fact that a chirpy Sturrock is on stage before us means we know how it turned out in the end, but not how he got there. Mayday Mayday tells the story of the journey that has brought him, with the help of friends and family, the skills of the NHS and a little bit of luck, back to full health.
It’s an inventive show with plenty of humour, but, if anything, Sturrock is just a little too chirpy. It doesn’t help that in his white shirt, braces and red neckerchief (the uniform worn on the Padstow Mayday parade) he has more than a passing resemblance to Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. He tells us the experience was “a nightmare”, as it surely must have been, but he shows us a cheerful, unimpeded journey back to health.
A story like this needs to take its audience into the heart of the dark moments as well as the bright ones. Sturrock, in his irrepressible cheerfulness, doesn’t dwell on these.
The strongest moments are the poignant ones: Katy pinning the scan of their baby to the ceiling tiles above his bed; his sudden sense of our human fragility. But these are comparatively few. This is a strong piece of work, but using a greater emotional range would make it even stronger.
Rating: * * * *
Until 27 August. Today 2pm.
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