When Alexander Masters first tried to write the biography of Stuart Shorter, a charismatic but chaotic homeless man with whom he had worked, he met with unexpected criticism. Shorter told him it was boring. Then he told him to write his story backwards. Arriving with these expectations, it is slightly disappointing to be met with a predominantly linear narrative in Jack Thorne's stage adaptation. It is not until the last half hour of his ninety minute play that we start looking backwards; and the subsequent revelations seem rather rushed.

Fraser Ayres (Stuart) and Will Adamsdale (Alexander) in Stuart A Life Backwards.
Fraser Ayres (Stuart) and Will Adamsdale (Alexander) in Stuart A Life Backwards.
© Robbie Jack
Fraser Ayres's dynamic performance as Stuart defines the production. Following extensive research into Shorter's physical and mental health problems, Ayres's embodiment of every tic and convulsion is utterly convincing, compelling and exhausting. You get the impression that, in life, Masters faded into the background alongside Shorter; so too here, the rest of the cast have a somewhat thankless task supporting Ayres's tour-de-force role. Even so, more work is needed on Will Adamsdale's Alexander, and to develop the ensemble sections of the play.

Mark Rosenblatt's direction seems unsure whether to err on the side of naturalism or minimalism, creating a rather confused aesthetic, unaided by Jon Bausor's unnecessarily mobile set. Essentially, Shorter's story and Ayres's performance would speak volumes without so much fuss.

Stuart: A Life Backwards continues at the Studio, Sheffield until 28 September. For further information visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

Sophie Bush