Tristram Shandy - Conception, Cock & Bull

In the studio of St James’ Theatre, Face to Face presents Tristram Shandy – Conception, Cock and Bull – adapted and performed by Stephen Oxley. The profits from this run will go St Andrew’s Club, the oldest youth club in the world which is located near the theatre.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne caused a stir in the 1760s because of its bawdy humor and story full of digression and exaggeration.

St Andrew’s is in luck because Stephen Oxley is marvelous storyteller and performer. He moves with ease through the non-linear story, conveying its wit well, despite the 18th century language.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne caused a stir in the 1760s because of its bawdy humor and story full of digression and exaggeration. People loved or hated him – Virginia Woolf apparently dubbed the book the first modern novel, while at the time Dr Johnson found it odd and sordid. These days the puns would be deemed very tongue in cheek at most. Still, one has to admire Oxley’s full re-enactment of Tristam’s conception in front of a room of trustees.

There is great energy and enthusiasm in Oxley’s performance, even if the audience is a little shy during points of interaction. His impersonation of all the different characters is skillful and consistent, which is very helpful in a one-man show with minimal props and scenery. He captures the audience and manages to tell tall tales on a very small stage.

The play is full of the digressions that characterize the original book and it jumps from one anecdote to another all before finally relating back to the start. Each beat is as interesting as the next, even to one unfamiliar with the text: Stephen’s mastery of storytelling was mesmerizing. My neighbour was impressed with how faithful the play was to the original book.

Great evening out and charitable to boot – one cannot ask for more.

Reviews by Clarissa Widya

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The Blurb

As Tristram regales his audience with tales of his own conception and birth, his domineering, opinionated father and the love affair of Toby, his gentle, battle-re-enacting uncle with the voluptuous Widow Wadman, Sterne’s ground-breaking literary creation is brought vividly to life with all the wit, digressive humour and bawdy of the original. “I will lay open a story to the World you little dream of.”

Dr Johnson found the novel “odd” and “sordid” but it was hugely popular and has remained a favourite of generations of writers, comedians and philosophers ever since.

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