Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Four stars for “fiery mashup” of Dahl for adults at Edinburgh

Wales at Edinburgh Fringe

Gagglebaggle & National Theatre Wales- Wonderman , Underbelly, Potterow , August-12-16
Wales at Edinburgh Fringe by Gagglebaggle & National Theatre Wales- Wonderman From “the Scotsman” 10th August

"This musical theatre co-production by Gagglebabble and National Theatre of Wales ignores Dahl’s works for children and posits the theory that his head trauma sparked Dahl’s imagination and gave rise to his – much – darker adult stories popularised by TV’s Tales Of The Unexpected. If this sounds an unlikely theory, Dahl himself gave it credence and there’s a nightmarish energy – helped immeasurably by the excellent live band onstage – to this handsomely mounted production directed by Amy Leach that proves convincing. There’s a heavy debt to Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective, naturally, as Dahl (Adam Redmore) slips in and out of consciousness becoming an unwilling participant in tales such as Lamb To The Slaughter and Man From The South interspersed with a few period standards and solid original music by Lucy Rivers and lyrics by the show’s author Daf James.”

From “What's On Stage 11th August

“After we've seen a steady stream of stage adaptations of his children's novels, National Theatre of Wales and Gagglebabble have decided it's about time we saw a few of these grown up stories in the theatre too. A play with songs, Wonderman is a fiery mash-up of several of Dahl's yarns, which doesn't quite tap into the delightfully wicked atmosphere that permeates them on the page, but is nevertheless a lot of fun.

There's a sturdy narrative pivot at the heart of the piece - a pilot, wounded after his plane crashed, is in hospital. Oddball characters visit him, arriving through his sick bed delirium. The present morphs into the past and then into his imagination and he becomes the central role in each of the stories. At one point he is whacked on the head by his wife with a massive leg of lamb (Lamb to the Slaughter), at another he is fed cyanide by a sinister landlady (The Landlady). Suddenly he finds himself in Jamaica, where a man bets him that he can't flick his lighter on ten times in a row. If he loses, the man will chop his little finger off (Man From the South).

In between each story we return to the hospital bed, before heading out again into the patient's imagination. The patient is Dahl himself - who actually was wounded after crashing his fighter plane during the second world war. The blow to the head he received and his subsequent weeks of recovery were significant in the forming of the writer he was to become.

The songs, written by Lucy Rivers and Daf James, are punchy and very catchy and are performed by an excellent cast of four, alongside a live band. Amy Leach's direction is simple but very effective - it's a fluid, non-stop journey through the mind of one man and his weird and wonderful stories.”

From “the List” 9th August

“While his children's stories are frequently populated by saccharine do-gooding orphans, Roald Dahl's tales for adults are the stuff of darkened-alley, hectic acid nightmares. Gagglebabble and National Theatre Wales have cherry-picked the most macabre and villainous of his short stories and injected them with a dose of frantic gig-cabaret musicality to create "Wonderman”.
The young fighter pilot Dahl lies badly injured and feverish in a hospital bed in Alexandria following a near fatal crash. Each of his hallucinations develops into a different short story, trotting convincingly freely around the globe from Jamaica to New York via a B&B in Brighton.

Structurally this is an interesting framework but by the third onset of delirium the machinations of each approaching episode – Dahl thrashing about trying to figure out where he is and dodge perennially looming meat cleavers – are so neatly nailed down that it begins to lose sight of the tricky 'unexpected'. The final scene reigns it back in, Dahl's final piecing together of his accident is refreshing in its lucidity while still maintaining the show's boundary-inquisitive tone.

The live on-stage band provide sublime bluesy accompaniment, which is unsettling and soothing in equal measure. Overall, this peculiar world is done justice by this original and bizarre production, which lands just on the right side of hysteria.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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