The year is 1812 after the revolution. William (Paul Hunter) and Emily (Catherine Marmier) are nearing the end of their relationship. Having witnessed too many atrocities, William's memory is fading fast. Emily visits him in hospital but all he talks about is 'Betty's hotpot' in Coronation Street and the racing on Channel 4. A maverick doctor (Richard Clews) attempts to help each of them, both mentally and emotionally. But as William's condition deteriorates, Emily finds herself unable to connect with her husband at all. All of which may sound unflinchingly depressing, but this production is anything but a downer.
John Wright's direction is inspired. I Can't Wake Up contains sight gags which have to be seen to be believed, funny lines about British society which lampoon everything from nationalism to soap opera, and an edge of poignancy which runs through the middle of the play like words in a stick of rock. Writer and performer Paul Hunter manages to persuade you that something so zany and completely bonkers at times can also be moving too. Mental illness has seldom been played out with such humour and affection before. The scene where William doesn't recognise Emily without her hat makes you smile through many a tear as it seems so real.
The three performers are uniformly excellent. Each one gets the chance to shine. Clews excels as the doctor who is enamoured with Marmier's Emily who, for her part, displays a touching vulnerability and sense of disbelief at the rapid decline of her husband's memory. And Hunter, so very close to the material, exudes a childlike quality that makes you truly believe William's plight.
I Can't Wake Up is a brave and daring piece of theatre which is unlike anything you're likely to have seen before. Hilarious, moving and jam-packed with post-modern references that will make you grin.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at Manchester's Royal Exchange)