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Bouncing back after stroke
WHEN acclaimed classical actor Edward Petherbridge suffered two strokes just days into rehearsals for King Lear, he knew he wasn’t going to be able to take on the role in one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies.
But now, together with Paul Hunter, he has turned the experience of his illness and of Lear into a two-man show, My Perfect Mind, which is coming to Salisbury Playhouse on Tuesday.
Petherbridge was a part of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre company in the 1960s and a mainstay of the Royal Shakespeare Company from the 1970s.
He also formed The Actors’ Company with Sir Ian McKellen, has appeared in the West End and on Broadway, has won an Olivier Award and was the original Guildenstern in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
The call to play King Lear came completely out of the blue from a company in New Zealand.
Petherbridge had completed the second day of rehearsals and was in his hotel room when he got up in the middle of the night and collapsed in the bathroom.
“I knew what had happened,”
he said. “I realised I couldn’t get up so I dragged myself to the phone, with some difficulty, and rang reception for an ambulance.”
By the next day he was able to walk again but then suffered a second stroke which paralysed his right side, leaving him unable to write, walk or even see properly.
“I knew I couldn’t do Lear.
That is one of my chief regrets about that, it was such a let down for the company after they had flown me out there.”
But as he recovered he realised he had retained his memory of the entire part of King Lear.
“The chance of anybody offering me King Lear again was slim – if you’re not famous on television or film you don’t get offered leading parts in theatre these days.
“I thought the best thing I could do was a one-man show at the Edinburgh Festival.”
He was in the West End production of the musical The Fantasticks with fellow actor Paul Hunter and told him his ambition when Hunter suggested making a show about his experience.
- Told By An Idiot's My Perfect Mind is in the Salberg Studio at Salisbury Playhouse from March 19 to 23.