The Kings Arms, Salford
27 July 2018 to 29 July 2018
Wendy (Abigail Standish) is a self-confessed cinephile who has worked her way through all of the major movies on offer and become obsessed with an obscure film entitled ‘The Busted Branch’. When Wendy discovers a rare print of the film is being screened at The Waterfall cinema, she is determined to attend – which could be a problem as she resides in a psychiatric ward for a condition that is not specified. Wendy’s obsessions have made her selfish and manipulative, and she does not hesitate to cause problems for her nurse, Derek (Sam Hughes), or to crash a party being organised by lonely Austyn (Heather Madden), if such actions will help achieve her goal.
Wendy to the Waterfall, written and directed by Matthew Smith, is an ambitious play with production values that aim higher than the Fringe. Jeni Holt Wright’s set includes a cinema screen with silhouettes and a movable security door. It makes for a madcap adventure but one that is stuffed with so many ideas as to become disjointed.
Smith tends to throw ideas at the play in the hope that some might work. On occasion they do: Wendy’s escape from the psychiatric ward is staged in the manner of a cool 1960s spy caper, with Abigail Standish sneaking around the stage to the stylish backing of a jazz soundtrack. Yet sometimes ideas are tried and then disregarded – in one sequence Wendy’s everyday speech becomes littered with film titles, which would be characteristic of a cinephile but it happens just once and is never repeated. Wendy’s summation of her favourite movie, complete with a flip chart presentation, does not add much to the play.
Smith draws the audience into Wendy’s off-centre world by filtering events through her perception. It is a valid way of helping us to relate to the character but does not overcome the major limitation that it is very hard to like someone whose self-centred approach makes her ignore other people who suffer the consequences of her actions. There is no information on Wendy’s background before her illness took hold, so we have no idea what she might have lost or endured. It is hard to assess the extent of Wendy’s illness, as its nature is never specified and the symptoms of her failing to take her medication are presented in a manner that trivialises the effect – her care assistant is perceived as a butcher.
Abigail Standish gives an excellent, larger-than-life performance, drawing out Wendy’s eccentricities in a manner that reflects her obsessions. Standish’s body language is stylised, as if she is unconsciously striking poses held by the stars of her favourite movies. Standish develops Wendy to the point where there is hope that friendship might help overcome her illness.
Wendy to the Waterfall is an imaginative and well-acted play, although the highly stylised presentation limits the extent to which one can relate to the character.
Reviewer: David Cunningham