Theatre review: Nick: An Accidental Hero

Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: Nick: An Accidental Hero at Assembly George Square (Venue 3), reviewed by Susan Mansfield

In July 2000, Nick Chisholm, a 27-year-old New Zealander, collapsed while playing rugby. A stroke and cerebral haemorrhage left him in what appeared to be a vegetative state. His family were told that he was unlikely to recover. But as Nick’s family and friends refused to give up, it was discovered that Nick had locked-in syndrome – he was consciously aware, but completely incapable of response.

The story of Nick’s illness and his gradual, partial recovery inspired New Zealand actor Renee Lyons to make her one-woman show. She animates Nick’s story by playing the different characters that surround him: his mother, his best friend Boyd, the irrepressible Korean orderly who looks after him in hospital, and eventually his English girlfriend, Nicola.

Lyons is an engaging and versatile performer, telling her story with few props save a chair and a torch, and using gestures and voices to signal the transitions between the different characters. One of the biggest challenges is how to signpost the passing of time – the show tells a story which lasts 12 years – and this is occasionally confusing.

It is such a naturally inspirational story that it needs tension to make it work dramatically, and Lyons doesn’t flinch from some tough moments: Nick’s decision to live alone, with the help of carers, rather than with his parents, which comes as a blow to his protective mother; the challenges which arise for all concerned when Nick falls in love.

Lyons was attracted to Nick’s story because it is an inspiration, a triumph over extreme diversity. Therefore, the biggest pitfall she must avoid is telling it in a way which bathes the character of Nick and those around him in a rosy glow, simply because they coped with what is, for most people, unimaginable.

The play almost avoids this, but not completely. It could be even stronger if it were to probe the tensions and difficulties just a little further.

MORE INFO: Nick: An Accidental Hero is at Assembly

Originally published in The Scotsman

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