Theater review by Helen Shaw. St. Ann’s Warehouse (see Off Broadway). Written and performed by Tristan Sturrock. Dir. Katy Carmichael. 1hr 15mins. No intermission.
For such an intimate work, Tristan Sturrock’s touching autobiographical solo show, Mayday Mayday,begins with an image that feels very distant. Behind a scrim on the nearly empty St. Ann’s Warehouse stage, we see Sturrock on the ground, his prone body reflected upright in a vertical mirror. It’s an old bit of poor-theater magic—as he undulates on the ground, the reflection shows us a man falling from a great height. But as we learn, the miracle isn’t the visual trick. It’s that Sturrock can undulate at all.
The British actor hasn’t got a complicated story to tell. Coming home from a pre–May Day celebration at the pub, Sturrock ran up the “ziggy-zaggy” hillside steps to his Cornish cottage, then tumbled over and behind them. His then-girlfriend (now his wife and director, Katy Carmichael) found him—fifth cervical vertebra broken, body paralyzed completely. Using just a few toys as props, Sturrock illustrates his rescue, surgery and ultimate recovery.
During his hellish journey, Sturrock was guided by an endless series of sweet and funny Virgils: the cheery ambulance driver, persistent physiotherapists who taught him to walk again. Since Sturrock leaps and cavorts before us, we never entertain any fear for him, but this deft work still evokes a sense of mystery. Painting a picture of his tiny village, Sturrock re-creates its traditional May Day dancing and the auld ’Obby ’Oss (dialect for “hobbyhorse”) figure that animates the parade. In the aftermath of his trauma, Sturrock’s England seems alive with these little magicks and kindnesses coming from invisible hands—all determined to make him well.—Helen Shaw