Tristram Shandy: Live at the ADC!

Wed 21st – Sat 24th October 2015


Maddy Searle

at 01:18 on 22nd Oct 2015



I’ll admit that I went to see ‘Tristram Shandy: Live at the ADC’ feeling rather apprehensive. My English student friends had warned me of the original text’s tedious digressions. However, I was intrigued by the Blackadder-esque use of the word ‘thingy’ on the show’s flyer, so I decided to see the performance for myself.

I was pleasantly surprised by the show’s vitality and pantomimic frenzy, which alleviated much of the tediousness I had been warned about. Tim Atkin’s portrayal of the eponymous Tristram was also charming. His jovial charisma married with blundering buffoonery and showmanship made the audience giggle from the second his voice echoed across the auditorium. His relationship with Alice, played by Inge-Vera Lipsius, was enjoyable to watch, as Alice voiced the audience’s concerns about the relevance of Tristram’s anecdotes while he blithely continued.

The set was cleverly arranged, with Tristram and Alice’s chat show sofa near the audience, the naturalistic Shandy Hall set spread across the stage, and the conjugal bed perched on a platform at the back. This enabled various scenes, time-periods, and bawdy tableaux to coexist side by side.

The show also had a feast of jokes tailor-made for the English-reading, ADC-going audience. Digs at the terrible design of Wordsworth Classics and parodies of Cambridge’s student journals were particularly apt. There, too, was a cornucopia of visual gags and a diverse range of props (such as a pair of forceps) which made the audience chortle.

Although, as mentioned previously, much of the tediousness of the original was eradicated, it couldn’t be completely removed. In attempting to put across the rambling nature of Tristram’s recollections, some of the scenes went on too long, and some of the wordy dialogue was lost in a rush by the actors, keen to get to the next bit. Furthermore, the emotional and philosophical message of the play, though well thought out, came rather late. The sudden change in tone from silly to pensive was rather jarring. Especially since the finale finally mentions the ‘thingy’.

All in all, ‘Tristram Shandy: Live at the ADC’ is a unique theatrical experience which combines literary criticism with visual and anatomical humour. It is rather rough around the edges, and is structurally difficult to grasp, but the vim and vigour of the performers make this show an amusing late-night jaunt.


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