William Fergus Stuart – The Revival

LAURIE COLDWELL’s mind melts in the face of our first ever unclassifiable play.

absurd apocalypse bats big society Fitzpatrick Hall laurie coldwell revival Unclassifiable William Fergus Stewart

[rating: 0/5]

Queens’ Fitzpatrick Hall, 16th-19th February, 10pm, £4-6

Directed by William Fergus Stuart and Katy Browse


In the coming BigSociepocalypse, no longer able to afford the $10 to top up your Tesco Children and receive your 300 free minutes of caring for their sores, you will clap with your hand and cheer when William Fergus Stuart is revived again. This will be our only joy. Language eventually having been reduced to a mixture of screams and ironic shouts of ‘LOL!’, the rare flashes of sentience in this wild exploration of self will have such profound meaning we shall have no need of other plays. For now this insane dribble of a play is a two hour exercise in theatrical sadism more fulfilling than watching a toddler frolic in chocolate mousse.

Observant readers will have noted this play is a ‘revival’. Apparently it played in the Judith E. Wilson studio last Michaelmas to a 4 Star review from TCS. Apparently. Who would actually know? Moving to the echo-palace of the Queens’ Fitzpatrick Theatre, its opening night was met by an actual mob. It was a small mob, admittedly. Of about – no – exactly three people. Not that you would have known from an assured, confident and un-cowed cast, who bravely battled any semblance of sense for two hours.

Curtains closed for the start, they open slowly onto a coffin, wreath at the side somberly spelling ‘Will’. Written and directed by William Fergus Stuart, we are led to believe William Fergus Stuart (the play) is to be a fictionalised account of the recently departed, er, William Fergus Stuart. We guess as much as James Bloor (playing, until the concept of ‘character’ gradually flabbles away into a nearby drain, Leo), distraught, launches into eulogy about Will. Touching at first, by about line three it becomes a list of achievements of increasing improbability: “His penis was about 7 and ¼ inches. He could do 60-70 press-ups in a minute.” And then a girl comes on stage and recites all the words of a 3 minute song. That song then starts playing at a delay of 15 seconds behind her recital. And then a massive cardboard heart with legs starts dancing next to them. What follows is a tangle of…things…surreal sketches probably describes it best. Oh God it’s ridiculous. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fantastic.

This play plays with you. Following no real plot, nor any expectations, it explodes autobiography. It is (whether intentional or not) hilarious. It’s audacious. And then it will test your patience. Until it becomes hilarious again. It will exhaust you if you let it, its bloody-mindedness breaking you down until you burble unintentionally. If I was to over-intellectualise it, I could launch into an essay of how this exemplifies Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and speaks a unique language that lies halfway between thought and gesture. Or how it echoes Gus van Sant’s film Gerry, a film that puts you through the meaningless ordeal of its protagonists with over-lingering camera shots. But it defies that. And when it really comes down to it, I like the bit in William Fergus Stuart where James Macnamara (playing Will Stuart) cradles a baby with the director’s face sellotaped onto it and dances round a lampshade-less freestanding lamp that happens to be wearing a jeans and shirt. It’s an experience indeed.

Whatever you think when seeing it, William Fergus Stuart will provoke a reaction in you. You won’t be able to fault the conviction of its performers, who are superb. You won’t be able to say you’ve seen something like it before. By the end, its tour de force in insanity will either send you giddy or angry. And that’s important in theatre. Does William Fergus Stuart mean anything? What does it matter? Come 15 years time, when everything is finally devoid of meaning and all mankind can do is bump into things blindly and say ‘buh’, at least when that comes, the next revival of William Fergus Stuart will let us feel something when we can understand nothing. At least there’s that, eh?