We’re singing the praises of Stuart

Will Adamsdale and Fraser Ayres, stars of Stuart: A Life Backwards
Will Adamsdale and Fraser Ayres, stars of Stuart: A Life Backwards
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A play that won enthusiastic reviews at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year despite an injury to one of its stars in its first week is on its way to Sheffield next week.

Stuart: A Life Backwards tells the story of Stuart Shorter, a real-life “chaotic, violent, motormouth homeless man”. He met middle-class writer and charity worker Alexander Masters when they were involved in a defence campaign for the ‘Cambridge Two’, homeless shelter managers who were jailed for alleged drugs offences.

Actor Fraser Ayres has a very physical role as Stuart had cerebral palsy, but ironically it was Will Adamsdale playing Alexander Masters who injured his back during the play’s world premiere run last month.

I travelled to Edinburgh to see the show and was at the performance where Will Adamsdale injured his back. He got through the performance but suddenly bent double as the audience was applauding the performers and the injury put him out of the show for several weeks.

Fraser Ayres found himself playing opposite three different performers during the play’s run in Edinburgh but Will Adamsdale is back in the role at the Crucible Studio next week. Sheffield Theatres are co-producers of the production.

The play is beautifully written by double BAFTA award-winning playwright and screenwriter Jack Thorne (Skins and This Is England ‘86) and is a very intense yet touching and at times funny story of a friendship that marked both men’s lives.

When Stuart died after being hit by a train, Alexander Masters was determined to tell his story and find out what had happened in his early life to turn him into a violent criminal and drug addict who spent a lot of his life on the streets.

Stuart had seen a first draft of Alexander’s book about him and was not impressed by its academic tone. “Make it more like a murder mystery,” he said. “What murdered the boy I was? See? Write it backwards.” It’s a scene that is reproduced in the play.

The answers to what did happen to Stuart are sad and shocking.

The resulting biography became an unlikely publishing hit and was turned by director Sam Mendes into a film in 2007, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alexander and Tom Hardy as Stuart. Now the story’s being retold on stage.

Stuart: A Life Backwards comes to the Crucible Studio Theatre from next Wednesday, September 11, to September 28. Tickets are on sale from the Sheffield Theatres Box Office. Call 0114 249 6000 or visit sheffieldtheatres.co.uk.