Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Edinburgh: The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley at the Pleasance Courtyard

Chris Goode’s solo show takes a familiar shape. It’s a comforting, coming-of-age narrative in which a young boy meets an outsider who helps him find his way in the world; it’s Stig of the Dump with jokes about Radiohead; it’s just lovely on very many levels.

Fourteen year old Shirley carries around a lot of baggage. For one thing, his parents’ have seen fit to give him a girl’s name – that doesn’t help; he’s besotted with the captain of his school’s cross-country running team, the stick-on plastic stars on his bedroom ceiling have never deigned to glow in the dark, and then there’s the case he keeps under his bed: a boxed promise, dwindling despite his best efforts to look after it, to keep it safe.

Things begin to look up for Shirley when he meets Wound Man, a ‘freelance social interventionist’ or, to put it more succinctly, a super hero. Wound Man is a walking version of one of those medical illustrations from the Middle Ages showing the various damages a body can receive in battle. Weaponry of all forms sprouts from his limbs: spears, maces, arrowheads, clubs; one hand dangles by a sinewy thread and he has a tendency to clank when he walks. He’s a human Swiss army knife in snazzy silver pants. His pain is external, overt, and people find they start to feel better merely by being in his presence.

Wound Man shows Shirley how to be brave, to grow, to cope with his grief and his sexuality but also to be open to the possibility of happiness and love in his life. It is an incredibly warm piece of storytelling, gentle in delivery, and surprisingly funny in places.

This is a smaller scale version of a show originally commissioned for the 2009 Queer Up North festival. The animation sequences described in previous outings are absent but the simple set still evokes the world of an adolescent boy via an apt fanning of X-Men comics, a Rubik’s cube, a handful of Asimov novels and some discarded socks.

Goode delivers the piece in true Jackanory fashion. He deepens his voice slightly when delivering Wound Man’s lines, but otherwise he tells his audience who said what rather than acting out the narrative. He’s an affable and engaging performer who manages to convey the story’s emotional shifts in an elegant, economical way, so that when he does let loose, when his delivery quickens, the audience are picked up and swept along with him. A central fantasy sequence which tells of a vast menagerie spilling through suburban streets is a prime an example of this. Goode becomes more excitable as the music picks up and the descriptions of the animals become sillier and surreal.

The piece, as a whole, is incredibly disarming and the manner of delivery is at times deceptive. Goode doesn’t appear to be doing all that much and yet the story exerts a considerable emotional hold: as a piece of writing it’s full of subtlety and unforced pathos, never straying into overt sentiment; as a piece of theatre, it’s also very effective, the kind of thing that makes people who don’t know each other exchange little smiles of wet-eyed delight as they collect their bags and jackets at the end.

Reviewed for Exeunt

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