The only cheering aspect of the industrial decline of the old West Riding is the availability of so many wonderful spaces for, among other things, theatre. From the pioneering work of Northern Broadsides at Dean Clough in Halifax to the magnificent recent production of The Mill at Drummond’s Mill in Bradford, the setting has been integral to success – and Bent Architect’s production of The Wonderful World of... is yet another that utilises industrial space (in this case, the old Temple Works) superbly.
The Wonderful World of... is produced by Jude Wright, directed by Mick Martin and designed by Barney George, but no writer is credited. I presume that Wright and Martin, the founders of Bent Architect, collaborated with the cast on a script that moves from the tenderly articulate to the crushingly banal (usually deliberately) in re-creating the world of the mentally ill. Two characters are foregrounded. Becky starts things off, by appearing as a kind of youthful Miss Havisham, distressed in her wedding dress, exchanging brave words with the promenade audience. She, it proves, is suicidally depressive. Then there is Rob, concerned with his inability to tie his shoelaces or return his library books, whose fantasy reality leads to credit card binges and accidental self-harm.
To begin with, the production is splendidly free-wheeling. Monologues from Becky and Rob and an unnecessary lecture on Gericault’s “Raft of the Medusa” by Rob’s fantasy pirate captain lead to our release from the rather claustrophobic entrance area into the light of a despatch bay where the band is already playing and the bicycle-powered pirate ship is ready to take us across the yard to where Becky is waiting half-way up a fire escape. Once we have joined her at her wedding reception, however, the promenade concept becomes somewhat bogged down, with the audience seated at tables for the final two-thirds of the performance.
Some of these scenes are the most effective of the evening, however. Both Kuselo Mandela (Rob) and Katie Matthews (Becky) give convincing and touching performances, with Mandela in particular outstanding in his ability to combine staring-eyed ruler-of-the-world paranoia with timid decency without showing the join. In fact all four actors impress. Julian Coburn-Hough does the Long John Silver thing with just sufficient camp, plus a sub-text of 21st century liberal commentary, and drops into a variety of roles, as does Tim Richey, horribly believable as Becky’s boringly conventional husband.
The Wonderful World of... is very enjoyable, perhaps too enjoyable as it is in danger of trivialising its subject, though the truth of the two central performances always pulls it back from the brink. The production also suffers from the desire to include everything, with gratuitous, though well-executed, dance episodes and an unwillingness to finish even when there is little more to say. However, the presence of a rock duo, the unfortunately named That F**king Tank, is anything but extraneous and complements the action superbly, with (among many other things) the most menacing waltz you ever danced to!