We gave it an A-
Tristan Sturrock, the dashing British actor who stole our hearts in Kneehigh Theatre’s magnificent 2009 re-imagining of David Lean’s Brief Encounter, is one remarkably limber fellow. In his stark yet funny one-man show Mayday Mayday, the jaguar-like Sturrock contorts his body continually across the wide open stage of Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse (where it plays through May 5). Yet you keep needing to pinch yourself back into the reality of the show’s subject matter: Not even 10 years ago, this man literally couldn’t move below the neck.
In the 75-minute Mayday Mayday, Sturrock recounts the arduous aftermath of a brutal fall from a high wall during Europe’s May Day festival in 2004 that left him paralyzed. This is no woe-is-me bid for thespian sympathy. In fact, the absurdity of the situation is precisely what makes the story so refreshingly human: One minute you’re kicking back in a chair chatting on your cell with your best gal, the next you’re paralyzed on the ground, several stories below, waiting for rescue. (”This is funny…this is stupid…what a stupid way to die” is how Sturrock puts it.)
The script has been lovingly yet judiciously crafted by Sturrock and his wife, director Katy Carmichael (also a very pregnant key player in the narrative). The pair’s smartest move is to suggest Sturrock’s immobility with constant movement, using its impish star as the conduit. After periodic blackouts, he reappears in distant spaces so quickly you wonder if ”magician” is also on his CV.
Mayday Mayday is the type of show that could easily be misconstrued as slight given its single-minded topic: the unsentimental route of rehabilitation for one solitary performer. (The only scenic elements he needs to flesh out his tale are mirrors, tables, and miniatures.) But that narrowing of focus is exactly why Mayday Mayday succeeds. There is no grandstanding here, but simply a tough-hearted look at how physical hardship affects people in different ways. (In what must be a first, the program includes a surgeon’s note and facts on spinal research). Sturrock?s journey back to the stage may revolve around stagnancy, but this sweetly affecting tale is anything but. A-