Aug 9 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     Rip-roaring

Traverse Theatre (Venue 15): Fri 5 – Sun 28 August 2022
Review by Suzanne O’Brien

Eighties power ballads fill Traverse One for the return of James Ley’s Wilf, an energising and sparkling show which will have you snorting with laughter from the very start.

This sex-filled story of rediscovery stars Michael Dylan as Calvin – a Celine Dion loving, sex hungry, over-sharer who is desperate to transform his life. When Calvin’s few relationships deteriorate and he is forced to face the reality of being alone, he finds comfort in his car Wilf – a Volkswagen which has certainly seen better days.

Irene Allan and Michael Dylan in Wilf. Pic: Lottie Amor

Dylan portrays an instantly loveable character with a desire for freedom as he energetically bounds across the stage and brings Ley’s script to life. The play begins ominously for Calvin before he begins to recount his story and we meet ex-psychotherapist turned driving instructor, Thelma.

Irene Allan masterfully plays the sassy, shady and brutally honest instructor with great comedic timing. Despite Thelma’s hard exterior she appears to be the only person Calvin has enjoyed the company of for a long time and their quick-witted conversations are hilarious to watch.

After passing his driving test, Calvin brings his car to life by personifying him and this is surprisingly done so in a way that is believable. He talks with him, shares his feelings with him and in the end, they perhaps get a little too close…

Despite Calvin’s exuberance and slight craziness, Dylan is also able to show a sensitive side. The depth Dylan brings to this character and his ability to switch emotions suddenly, without overplaying it, is almost heart breaking.

Michael Dylan and Neil John Gibson in Wilf. Pic: Lottie Amor

These more intimate moments become more frequent as he begins to accept his reality. Although in these moments more is left unsaid than is actually said, with a lot not being fully explored.

One minute Calvin is parading around and belting out a power ballad. The next he is sitting alone while All By Myself blares loudly from his car speakers. The irony of moments like this has a poignancy which will leave you wondering whether to laugh or cry. The songs are cleverly integrated throughout – although they err on the cheesy side.

The story plays out amongst Becky Minto’s highly effective pink and sparkling set which works to enhance the vibrancy of Calvin’s character. It gives us a physical representation of the inside of his confetti filled, vibrant, neon lights filled brain. A stand-alone lamppost is also put to good use and allows Calvin to express himself in many ways…

Throughout the performance Neil John Gibson plays multiple roles from sweet Frank to Hans the leatherman to Esther Perel, who all interact with Calvin as he journeys through Scotland. Although these characters’ sole purpose is to convey Calvins personal growth, they are well defined and Gibson is able to make each weirdly unique and wonderful in their own right.

Director Gareth Nicholls balances the raunchy and outrageous humour – which sometimes pushes the envelope – with an underlying melancholy. He enhances the humour with fast paced sequences and interrupts them with ominous dreamlike scenes which enthral right to the end.

This sexual extravaganza is a journey of self-love and discovery, full of energy, style and just the right amount of pizzazz.

Running time – 1 hour 15 minutes (No interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED (Venue 15)
Friday 5 – Sunday 28 August 2022
Daily (not Mons). Times rotate daily, see website for details.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Irene Allan, Michael Dylan and Neil John Gibson in Wilf. Pic: Lottie Amor


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