Tristan Sturrock isn’t very funny in Mayday Mayday. Why should he be? The personal story he recounts to the audience — of breaking his neck during an English spring festival, of almost not being able to walk ever again — is deadly serious. Fortunately, he’s left room in his one-man show for other characters, like the friend of a neighbor, who found Sturrock at the bottom of a 10-foot drop. Or his EMT, his surgeons, the big Scottish friend who comes to visit him in the hospital. They’re the funny ones, and they’re not even trying. While Sturrock is allowed to embellish as a playwright, it wouldn’t be hard to believe that the lines that got the biggest laughs were directly inspired by the odd comedy of real life.
But what really pushes Mayday Mayday to the level of brilliance is the direction and stage designs of Katy Carmichael, Sturrock’s long-time girlfriend. At one point, when Sturrock turns a gurney/mirror hybrid into a hospital bed, with his head strapped down to the pillow, the audience gave the unexpected transformation a round applause. And the play shines brightest in a trio of dialogue-free moments, including one that opens the show. Relying mostly on his physical abilities, as well as a few tricks with lighting, confetti, and a mirror, Sturrock mimes a slow-motion version of his fall in a dream. He moves his body in minute increments, a white-clothed figure tumbling down a seemingly limitless black abyss. It’s a simple trick, but it is, as the Brits say, lovely.
We all know how Mayday Mayday is going to end. He’s going to be able to walk again. Duh. Sturrock may be bouncing around the stage like David Tennant’s Doctor Who now, but only after a dangerous surgery and two years of physical therapy, and he doesn’t gloss over the difficulties in his play. This is an intimate account, so candid at moments that you wonder if certain parts were actually scripted or if he’s really telling you things as he remembers them.
Sturrock was lucky, and he knows that, and in the final moments of the play he recounts the names of all of those who helped in his recovery: his girlfriend, the doctors and nurses, the funny EMT, giving each a flower. And in a way, Mayday Mayday is about these people as much as it is about the playwright. Sturrock wouldn’t be here without the helicopter pilot who flew him to the hospital or the nurses who rolled his paralyzed body so he wouldn’t get bed sores. At its heart, maybe Mayday Mayday is an ode to those people, and it’s a beautiful one at that.