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Actor Fraser Ayres talks to Rosy Moorhead about his title role in Stuart: A Life Backwards, coming to the Watford Palace Theatre
'And this is the order of me prisons: Baintnow House, Prison Send, back to Send again, Eriestoke, Norwich, five lots of remand in Norwich, then I was sentenced for five years, so I started off in Norwich, transferred to Aylesbury, transferred to Glen Parva, back to Aylesbury, Littlehey, Grendon Underwood, Grendon Underwood to Littlehey, was released.
‘Next incarceration sentence: Bedford, Littlehey, Whitemoor, Bullingdon, Long Lartin, Grendon, Long Lartin, Norwich, Long Lartin, Winchester, Long Lartin, Whitemoor, Blundeston, Wayland… I don’t think I’ve missed any out. Oh yes I have, I been to Leicester three times as well.’
Stuart Shorter was a career criminal, prisoner, alcoholic, drug-addicted, slightly disabled homeless man, the subject of the award-winning biography Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters.
The book was dramatised by the BBC in a film starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, and it has now been adapted for the stage in a production that is currently drawing rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and which is coming to the Watford Palace Theatre next week.
Actor Fraser Ayres, who plays Stuart, is buzzing with enthusiasm down the phone from Edinburgh, having just finished that day’s performance.
“It’s remarkable up here, the atmosphere is wonderful. The bubble they create for the Fringe doesn’t exist anywhere else, it’s wonderful."
His portrayal of Stuart, alongside Will Adamsdale’s of biographer Alexander Masters, is certainly drawing the crowds in, and with good reason.
“Stuart is that beautiful mix of dichotomies which, as an actor, I find most interesting,“ says Fraser, perhaps best known for starring in two BBC comedies – Clint in The Smoking Room and Ollie in Thieves Like Us.
“He was incredibly violent and terrifying to most people, and filled with anger and what he calls his ‘rageousness’. But at the same time, he’s very open and warm, he has a real sense of morality and insight in to most things, in to how society really works.“
One such example is when Stuart and Alexander go to visit their local MP, and Stuart tells her that, because there isn’t going to be an emergency winter shelter for the rough sleepers of Cambridge, there were going to be more deaths. When the MP asks him to elaborate, he says ‘Because there’s been two new dog litters, of puppies, on the street’.
“He explains that homeless people love their dogs,“ says Fraser, 31, from Leicester, “but, because they’re not allowed to take them into the shelters, they’ll be out in the cold so they’ll die. He follows things back like that, step by step. His insight is quite remarkable.“
Next week won’t be Fraser’s first visit to Watford – he was here back in 2006 filming the BBC sitcom Thieves Like Us.
“I had some wonderful nights and days out in Watford,“ he laughs. “The people are really friendly, super. We were filming all round the town, we were in a club one night, a car park another night.
“And I’m a Hindu, so Bhaktivedanta Manor in Aldenham is like my second home. I’m really looking forward to spending some time there as well when I’m there.“
Fraser and the cast and crew will be taking Stuart on to Sheffield after Watford, and after that?
“I’ve not thought that far ahead,“ Fraser laughs, “Stuart is taking up all my mental space at the moment. Once Stuart’s done with me, I’ll have a look and see what’s next.“
- Stuart: A Life Backwards is at Watford Palace Theatre, Clarendon Road, Watford from Wednesday, August 28 to Saturday, August 31 at 8pm, with a 4.30pm matinee on Saturday. Details: 01923 225671, watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk
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