Tim Atkins as Tristram ShandyJamie Fenton

When describing the wonderful and bizarre experience that is Tristram Shandy: Live at the ADC! it is hard to know where to start. Not at the beginning, certainly. Perhaps where the title character looks through the reviews his show got at the (non-existent) preview showing? The interpretive dance that expresses uncle Toby’s feelings on being asked how big his groin wound is by the love of his life? Or the moment when Tristram Shandy, the title character, narrator and touring author, debates an interpretation of the text with the cast of the play, playing the cast of a play that he is making to illustrate his own autobiography that he (perhaps) hasn’t written?

Perhaps it is best to start, as Tristram does himself, by referring back to what I have just said. Why am I wondering how to go about describing a play? You know the rote: production, set (it’s very nice, but I’m getting ahead of myself), actors, script, and direction, in that order. Or maybe I should begin with the script, the most impressive component of the play? Every scene, in fact glitters with more wit than lesser shows muster in an hour. This is down to the book it’s based on, of course, but Will Dalrymple’s deliciously intelligent script, coupled with unerring direction... but of course! I should have started by talking about the book (The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman) that the play is based on.  

It seems churlish, in a show packed with hilarious performances, to focus on particular actors. But it is also impossible to ignore the fantastically off-the-wall performance of Robert Eyers as Uncle Toby, the dry wit of Cassia Price as Elizabeth Shandy and of course the impressive verbosity of Tristram himself (Tim Atkin). As for some of the other actors, it is easier to ignore the slight fumbling over lines on their part as they were otherwise excellent, caught up as one is in the peculiar energy of a play with no direction.

Because Tristram Shandy breaks the rules of what does and doesn’t work, if you’re waiting for the moment where the plot will start getting moving, it will be a frustrating and disappointing hour and a half. But if you relax, I think it’s worth half a star more than I’ve given it, although that’s half a star more than I should. What do I mean by this? You’ll have to see the show to find out. But where was I? I think I was talking about how to write a review of Tristram Shandy. But where to begin?

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