Fringe theatre done badly can sometimes appear to be written just to
entertain the performers rather than the audience. The flipside of the coin
is that you can see something fresh, innovative and unique. Thankfully, this
spirited production falls into the latter category. From the word go, the
audience are treated to a dazzling feast of comedy, music and high drama
where the costumes (hats off to Naomi Wilkinson) anachronistically suggest
the 18th century but the dialogue, wit and references embrace the here and now.
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
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.