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.


Alfred Hickling

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Jeffrey Archer

"If you are lucky enough to have that gift - to tell a story, to tell a tale - that's just luck. You can't go down to Marks and Spencer and say 'I'll have a packet of stories please'."

22, Jul, 2008 @2:40 PM

McCrum on Jeffrey Archer
Review: The Eleventh Commandment

Robert McCrum

17, May, 1998 @3:54 PM

Article image
John Crace's digested read: False Impression by Jeffrey Archer

Few suspected that behind Fenton's facade as a respected banker lay one of Ceausescu's most loyal cronies who had amassed a fabulous horde of impressionist art by getting rich collectors to borrow money at ridiculous rates of interest and then killing them.

John Crace

06, Mar, 2006 @9:49 AM

My other life: Jeffrey Archer

Writers reveal their fantasy career

15, Mar, 2009 @12:01 AM

Jeffrey Archer

The first scene at the railway station in Brief Encounter, with Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard is a moving love scene with no explicit sex, played with such conviction.

06, Feb, 2000 @6:37 PM

Observer review: The Nose by Elena Lappin

Elena Lappin traps a story of dreadful secrets inside one of a perky young journalist in The Nose.

Adam Mars-Jones

05, Aug, 2001 @1:56 PM

Article image
Sons of Fortune by Jeffrey Archer

"Thank you for your generous donation, Mrs Davenport," oozed Dr Greenwood.

"Mrs Davenport's baby has died," said nurse Nichol. "I'll swap it with one of Mrs Cartwright's twins."

Nat Cartwright grew into one of the most handsome, intelligent and fair-minded young men in Connecticut.

11, Jan, 2003 @12:21 AM

The digested read: Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer

''Dear me,' he muttered to himself. 'That boy is going to be as remarkable as Jeffrey Archer''

John Crace

17, Mar, 2009 @12:01 AM

Article image
Archer publishes gospel according to Jeffrey

Jeffrey Archer is today publishing his radical re-telling of the story of Judas Iscariot, The Gospel According to Judas.

Lindesay Irvine

20, Mar, 2007 @2:20 PM

Article image
Cometh the Hour by Jeffrey Archer – digested
John Crace reduces a sprawling tale of high-stakes international intrigue and romance to juicy, bite-size chunks

John Crace

20, Mar, 2016 @4:00 PM