Your child asking where babies come from must be a nightmare question for any parent. Your child bursting out of a wardrobe while you and your husband are playing dress-up sex as Peter Pan and Alice, sending your startled crack-high husband out of a window and into a coma is a recipe for emotional disaster in every thinkable way. It’s the repercussions from this tragic event, the preceding reasons and subsequent guilt, that we see from the view point of Alison, sitting by her husband’s hospital bed, and Luke, a child not yet in his teens trying to understand what happened to his dad.
The power of No Wonder lies in its imagery; the three characters dressed in black who sit at the back and provide snippets of characters, visually striking moments and haunting voiceovers. They do it by using the most basic of props and never in a way that attempts to dominate the theatricality. But, most importantly, every visual moment is coherent and done for a constructive reason. So often it feels like a group have decided to include an idea for no reason other than it looks nice, tending to gloss over the fact that it’s misleading and confusing to the audience. In No Wonder it always felt that decisions were made because they would add to the story and underlining themes.
It seems obvious, but it’s what makes the difference between a succession of visually interesting moments and a compelling narrative whole that rewards initial interest with final satisfaction. The true significance of Luke tumbling out of a wardrobe filled with porn magazines and cuddly toys from various fairy tales isn’t fully revealed until the end, but more and more during the play we are given clues, references, that elucidate the emotional trauma, and the loss of innocence, that Luke and Alison have suffered. Never, however, in an obvious way. We are left to piece it together ourselves, but No Wonder expertly gives us the shape of the pieces through the imagery and shows us the picture on the box through the underlying theme of fairy tales. Imagine that visual metaphor actually working and you’re close.
If there’s a tension between No Wonder’s imagery and the nature of the story it is trying to tell then that tension manifests itself in the form of the language. Alison doesn’t talk as her character actually would, Luke certainly doesn’t talk like a young child would. The language is at times over-laden with metaphors and stories, almost to the point of being self-indulgent and distracting. For the majority though the script gets the important bits right, thanks mainly to the conviction and understanding which Asha Bhatt as Alison and especially Edward Franklin as Luke bring to their roles. Their development is never rushed but, again, carefully plotted.
Opinion will be divided on this play based around how much you can stomach a simile and whether you enjoy stage imagery or not. If you do, then this is a carefully crafted and elegantly executed piece. If you don’t then you may wonder what all the fuss is about.