Wonderman – Edinburgh Festival Fringe – Underbelly Potterrow

Adam Redmore, Right – Hannah McPake

Adam Redmore and Hannah McPake in Wonderman at Underbelly Potterrow. Picture: Picture: Kirsten McTernan

Wonderman at Underbelly Potterrow (Venue 358), until 28 August.

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

If there is such a thing as a theme for a time, the Fringe 2016 is about the voices in the head and trying to portray creative impulse. Wonderman explores the inner-workings of Roald Dahl in a screamingly raucous display of top-drawer talent caught in one man’s nightmare.

Dahl had been a fighter pilot in the war; the central character here is simply titled ‘Airman’, played by Adam Redmore. The surreal sequence of events that follow have the Airman at the centre. By way of introduction, a tale is told of a man who lost his memory. Following a blow to his head from a shovel, wielded by his wife, his memory returned. Yes – a shock can make a connection when all else fails.

The Airman is in a hospital bed, his eyes bandaged. The musicians play in dissonance that becomes a jet engine that fails and falls. There is a Brechtian repetition of soothing the disturbed Airman by the nurses and a doctor. It is vaguely echoing The Singing Detective, but without the patient seeming to recover to any extent.

In an increasingly absurd rattling of action, the Airman is freed from his bandages and seems to be taken in by a landlady – a landlady of a most peculiar character delivered by equal humour and horror by Hannah McPake. The Airman is diverted by this colourful character. He is animated and enjoying himself until the fun goes too far and he is again swathed in bandages on the hospital bed.

The formula is repeated several times with the Airman enduring a range of experiences, all of which remain in his head. The experiences are bizarre, comedic, nightmarish. They are driven through music and song and the central, wonderfully physical performance by Redmore.

The ‘gig theatre’ that Gagglebabble brought to The Bloody Ballad is dressed up in new clothes, delivering an exciting bumpy ride that traces some of the impulses of inspiration. The piece is in itself inspired and original.

Fiona Orr

Gagglebabble and National Theatre Wales

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