Dozens of loose pages fly, wondrously whirling round the furiously scrawling hand of an earth-bound airman, in memory of one of the world’s most treasured storytellers.
Wonderman injects the tone of Roald Dahl’s youthful imaginings into his more macabre stories of decapitated fingers, loopy landladies, meaty murders and accidental pork-eaters. Mixing a dreamy concoction of theatre and music, this self-contained tribute is an imaginative and energetic retelling of Dahl’s more unexpected tales.
After Dahl crash-landed his plane during the Second World War, he became interested in rumours claiming that blind men have been miraculously seen to recover their sight after a bump to the head. Gagglebabble Theatre Company and National Theatre Wales seek to unravel and construct the inner-workings of Dahl’s post-concussive mind through linking this with his acclaimed surge of literary creations later in his life.
The darkest of Dahl (such as The Man from the South, Pig, Lamb to the Slaughter) is twisted together within an overarching narrative of a hospitalized airman in Alexandria. Concussion-induced visions of the surreal ensue as the story is led hazily by the hand back and forth from page and reality. The bluer hues of hospitals and striped pyjamas sleekly contrast against the colours of his imagination, from the the lazy accents of the South, to the swinging sights of New York and all away across the ocean to Jamaica.
The strings of these bows are knotted together by an infectious score which thrives against its bizarrely macabre backdrop. Lucy River’s original songs and music elegantly propel the endearing airman into Dahl’s different stories, and nudges the action through its thicker waters.
A tight and cosy space made for a busy, versatile but not an overcrowded company of actors/musicians and a surrounding band. The simple set of a hospital bed and separation screens centralized the stories, but often felt a little lingering when visually introducing the illusionary tales. The set is best used when manipulated from its static position to aid the creation of the airman’s new mental destination.
Within impressively relentless energy, Wonderman suffers messy moments alongside its macabre madness, begging for a little dose of clarity. A paper plane guides us back to the world of the ordinary, but also to where the storyline seems comparatively lacklustre. There hangs a tangible consciousness of biding time on stage, as the airman struggles to shake off these persistent visions, waiting for the next rapid costume change before the production can proceed, a little too apparently constructed to appear seamless.
Nevertheless, Wonderman is a stylish, timeless and, at times, mesmerising testament to a man who proved that to cure a case of writer’s block, all you need is a knock on the head.
Wonderman is playing at the Underbelly Potterrow, Topside, Venue 358 until 28 August. For more information and tickets, see the Underbelly Edinburgh website.