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No Wonder (Re-Play Manchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The title may be bleak, suggesting a loss of hope, yet author Claire Urwin skilfully subverts this by illustrating that people do not always need fairy tales to help them survive. Peter is left comatose after an accident caused by his seven-year old son Luke, who innocently interrupts an amorous role-play game between his parents.

No Wonder examines the efforts of Luke (Edward Franklin) and his mother Alison (Virginia Barrett) to adjust to Peter’s condition. Luke, his perception shaped by fairy tales as much as by what he learns in school, struggles to understand why a kiss cannot awaken his father. As guilt begins to grow he turns to self-harm for relief. Alison alternates between being resourceful and plunging into despair.
No Wonder explores the benefits and limitations of make-believe in helping us cope with the upsets of life. Practical solutions (tales can be used to stimulate the memory of the ill Peter) are balanced against the confused beliefs of Luke, who cannot comprehend the situation but feels that he is to blame, and the use of fantasy figures to entertain.

Urwin gives us an evocative play in which the dialogue reflects the fairy tales conjured by the title (eyes are said to be glazed like excited cakes) but does not always convince in the more mundane day-to-day exchanges. Does anyone really refer to a mode of love? But there is no denying the power of the author to create moving situations.

In this Urwin is helped by the performances of  Franklin and Barrett who convey the story to us by way of their conversations with Peter or a therapist. Significantly, however, we never see them speak to each other.Barrett communicates the careworn life of someone who has had to cope with too much but cannot allow herself to weaken. The struggle of Luke to articulate his half-understood guilt is also painfully communicated by Franklin.

Guy Jones' is direction is suitably sombre and enhanced by the stark hospital room/waiting area created by James Turner. There is never any doubt that Luke’s hopes that his wardrobe might lead to Narnia will never be realised. Strangely, however, the production does not depress but rather leaves one impressed and even inspired by the ability of people to endure the worse that life has to offer.

- Dave Cunningham


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