DramaNorth WestReview

Wrestling the Walrus – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Writer/Director: Dan Mallaghan

Reviewer: Sam Lowe

The Royal Exchange have done it again. Providing a stage for yet another smart, sensitive and stunning one-act drama as part of their Spring/Summer season. Wrestling the Walrus is unsurprisingly the winner of the 2018 Hodgkiss Award. It’s impeccably and awe-inspiringly acted out by Nik Wood-Jones and Leanne Rowley as Mog and Gracie.

154 Collective is an international theatre company comprised of artists from different fields of expertise: animators, visual artists, theatre-makers, musicians and writers. It’s the attention to detail that’s painstakingly accomplished here in a playful and unconventional manner – watching the theatre piece resembles the experience of seeing a film, especially in the memory montage. The two actors and three musicians, undoubtedly at the top of their game, readily transport the audience into Mog’s diminishing mind.

This is a new, visually delightful play about a young woman who finds an elderly man sitting alone on a park bench and she decided to share her lunch of jam sandwiches with him. What is their relationship? Kind of like Groundhog Day, the same thing happens again the next day, albeit it varies here and there, and we learn more about both of them. The revelations are surprising and touching. It’s about dementia, friendship, connections, disconnections, and how our identities are made up of remembered, full and complex pasts and burning future desires. Fact and detail is unravelled like a ball of thread, but even the potentially fictional aspects of the story are truthful and significant in their own way.

So much thought has gone into the design of this, it gets your own creative juices flowing as you interpret the overt and understated meanings. A beautiful design by Hannah Sibai and the Art Director is Fabric Lenny. While the set is literally a hill in a park with a bench, figuratively it could be a TV broadcasting Mog’s version of events. It just as easily could be a sort of mental island, as his loneliness and isolation separates him from the rest of society. As Mog repeatedly says: “I’d forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on”. He’s always admired the view from the top of the hill, or could that even be the view outside the theatrical fourth wall into the audience? He longs to be outside of his mind prison. The pleasing projected spectrum of colours aesthetically compliments the animation which deceptively looks rose-tinted and child-friendly, when actually it possesses much darker themes.

Hayley Youell, James Dey and Nick Lewis provide first-rate music that not only underscores the action on stage but completes it. Musically and lyrically it’s hopeful, joyful, upsetting, strong, and fragile. The lighting is shaped gorgeously, for example the tree foliage gobo is used not only to suggest the obvious but to communicate the distorted and confused mental imagery in Mog’s mind. The way Mog says hello to someone tells you whether or not he remembers them; whether his mind is in the light or in the shade. The play is visually and aurally choreographed to maximum impact. You experience the story from Mog’s point of view, Gracie’s standpoint, and an outsider’s angle.

You’ve got to see this play as it opens your creative mind in its exploration of dementia. It triumphantly wrestles with an assortment of ideas within the production elements and the play text. 154 Collective tell this story in their own innovative and distinctive theatrical style.

Runs until 6th July 2019 | Image: Contributed

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A creative knockout

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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