Theatre: Defending Jeffrey . . . ?

Defending Jeffrey . . . ?
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
****

The subconscious of Edward Petherbridge is a strange place to be. It is like an actor's weird attic, full of half-remembered speeches, discarded costumes, stacks of mildewed anecdotes and a few mothballed resolutions to give the whole charade up one day and perhaps become a painter. It can be mildly diverting watching a seasoned pro pottering about among his own mental bric-a-brac, if the project is a tad self-indulgent.

But Petherbridge's attic contains a sinister secret that enlivens this self-penned one-man show no end, however detrimental it may have been to his career. Stashed away, under a heap of still-fresh hostile notices, is the fact that, until February this year, Petherbridge played Jeffrey Archer's defence counsel in Archer's ill-fated courtroom drama, The Accused.

You can only marvel that Petherbridge has rustled up this explanation, exculpation and exorcism in such a short space of time. But then, as he makes the least expected of entrances, dangling from the end of a flying wire, Petherbridge is clearly not an actor who relishes hanging around. What emerges is something like his own post-traumatic stress production: a truly bizarre cross-fertilisation of bumbling after-dinner anecdotes with a spell-binding demonstration in stage mechanics - as if Ned Sherrin had gone into therapy with Robert Lepage. Rarely has an audience seemed so polarised between rapt enthusiasm and utter bewilderment.

I too felt a bit of both. There's a section where Petherbridge apostrophises inconclusively on modern painting, then indulges in a spot of sub-Rolf Harris splatter painting. After this strange exercise in watching paint dry, he re-emerges dressed as Pierrot and, in a pool of ravishing blue light, gives a heart-meltingly beautiful account of the prison soliloquy from Richard II, mixed with some oblique, Oedipal stuff about never being able to communicate properly with his father. You can only marvel at the tenacity of the man's self-examination. Genius or madness? It's a fine line; and most of them seem to have been penned by Petherbridge for his own theatrical nervous breakdown.

• Until April 21. Box office: 0113-213 7700.

Contributor

Alfred Hickling

The GuardianTramp

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