(5 / 5) Unmissable
A lucid, slightly seasick jazz-kissed dream
Have you ever had a dream and woken up not quite knowing if what you’ve just experienced was real? That hazy half-sleep mode when your sleep-induced mind hallucination feels like it could be real for a moment? Wonderman – an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s stories for adults perfectly captures the sheer silliness and absurdity of your dreams and the haunted ‘recollections’ of a shell-shocked airman during the Second World War.
Brought to us by Gagglebabble, National Theatre Wales and the Wales Millennium Centre, the show took place in Tramshed’s wonderful pub-theatre venue. Lit by fairy lights outside and with a dim candle-lit, stripped-down vibe inside the performance space, this was a fitting and cosy venue for the performance. Mingling with other audience members and taking in our pints felt informal and exciting – there was already the imposing presence of a 6-piece band, who were gathering in the bar getting ready to take us on an epic journey in to the mind of the troubled airman.
The band line up really is superb and Gagglebabble’s Lucy Rivers (who created the music, played multiple parts and devised the show with Hannah McPake and Daf James) has a magnetic stage presence, as does Hannah McPake. McPake plays an absolutely cracking rendition of a Brighton landlady who perfectly toes the line between Mumsy and psychotic taxidermist waiting to pounce. Adam Redmore’s depiction of a traumatised, paranoid airman in the midst of a hallucinogenic dream is wonderful and raw.
The music and lyrics move the sequences along beautifully, the overall pace and energy is good and there are plenty of hearty chuckles and clever lines throughout. Director Amy Leach manages to inject joy and colour in to a storyline that has the potential to be so dark and in such an engaging way – it is frantic, but it is clever and warm. I loved the way the storylines and dream sequences joined up at the end.
Dahl’s works in general exude a childlike charm – and there are echoes of his characterisation present in his most famous children’s stories in this production – menacing enough to give you the chills, but without too much bitterness or poison.
Chatting with audience members before and after the show, Dahl leaves his mark on people in different ways.
We’re reminded of Dahl when we think of the sheer terror invoked by the TV adaptation of ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ (especially THAT clown under the bed) and of the way that even the most horrid and dodgy characters still have you rooting for them.
We get a weird perverse thrill when Mrs Trunchbull is on the scene and similarly, you’re fascinated by the somewhat pervy Uncle Oswald. In this production, we can’t help but like and want to believe the tender wife who clobbers her husband, the kooky landlady and the funny Jamaican guy who wants a souvenir of the airman’s finger. At one point, the audience even cheers for the airman’s finger to be chopped off. There is a lot of chopping threat in this production…and you will never look at a leg of lamb without smiling again!
It is mad-cap, it is fantastic and the whole thing was a lucid, slightly sea-sick jazz-kissed dream. It’s quite fitting that the opening night for ‘Wonderman’ should fall on the centenary since the birth of one of Wales’ literary gems.
There’s an excited chatter, a feel-good buzz all over town as Cardiff prepares for a mammoth weekend of celebrating all things Dahl in the ‘City of the Unexpected’ events.
For me, this was completely unexpected – a surprise full of cheeky mischief, made by misfits…and if you too are looking for a chop-tittlingly toe-tapplingly lush-winkingly good time, you need to shake your tail and get over there to see this show (try the chips in the ‘Waiting Room’ bar/restaurant next door to the venue, too – lush!)
Type of show: Theatre
Dates: 13 September – 18 September, PN 13th September
Devised by: Daf James, Hannah McPake and Lucy Rivers
Music by: Lucy Rivers
Design: Hayley Grindle
Technical: Joshua Carr (Lighting), Dan Lawrence (Sound), Lucy Cullingford (Chpreography & Movement), Bryony Tayler (Costume)
Cast / Musicians include: James Clark (Piano), PeteKomor (Double Bass), Hannah McPake (The Landlady), Mark O’Connor (Drums), Adam Redmore (The Airman), Lucy Rivers (The Wife), Joe Shire (The man from the South).
Running time: 1hr 45min