Writer: Richard Marsh
Director: Justin Audibert
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Parental relationships can be fraught with complication, particularly when a mother or father chooses to leave their children without seeing them again for years if not decades. The intricacies of such decisions and their consequences often make a good basis for dramatic exploration. Wingman, transferring from the Edinburgh Festival to the Soho Theatre, is the story of 30-something Richard, played by writer Richard Marsh, who is reunited with the father who walked out more than twenty years ago, and considers whether absent parents should ever be given a second chance.
There are only two characters in this production, Richard and his father, who we see through two lenses, first Richard’s own narration where in verse he describes events and people directly to the audience, and in enacted scenes between him and his father. The play opens with the death of Richard’s mother from cancer which brings Len back into his life. On their way to scatter his mother’s ashes, they are waylaid by the news that Richard is himself to be a father after a one-night stand with a co-worker at the TFL Christmas Party, and the remainder of the play focuses on Richard’s attempts to balance his own doubts about his parenting skills and the continuing presence of his own father in his life.
It is an interesting concept and one that attempts to tackle some larger issues about the effect and nature of childhood dislocation, and in reality how difficult being a good parent can be. Seeing Richard, who is not always likeable, in conversation with his father and hearing his own internal monologue is also cleverly realised although the transitions between the two modes is not always as clear as it could be. There is also a nice domestic comedy element with Len turning up uninvited at awkward moments, which contrasts well with the more satirical tone of Richard’s descriptions of his life and the people he knows.
The character of Len, played by Jerome Wright, however remains a bit of an enigma and although they hint at his serial infidelities we never really learn why he left the family and whether he genuinely feels any remorse. Understandably Wingman is Richard’s perspective but future versions of the play could examine the father’s motivation more openly – was it a selfish act to allow him to live a life free of commitment or did he believe he was a bad parent and they would be better without him? Likewise it would be interesting to know why he has returned at this point and persistently wishes to establish a lasting relationship with his son.
Wingman is an enjoyable exploration of family connections and both actors deliver engaging performances. It could perhaps give a bit more substance to the story of Richard and Len, keeping that centre-stage rather than deviating into Richard, Brigitte and their baby, but its rôle in bringing about some kind of resolution is useful. There are lots of good elements here and an interesting message – whatever legacy your childhood may have, at some point you have to let it go. Your parents are human after all.
Runs until20 September|Photo: Robert Workman