Theatre reviews: Wilf | Hansel & Gretel

Wilf is a filthy and brilliantly-paced joyride through the psyche of a damaged gay man gradually learning to care for himself, writes Joyce McMillan

Michael Dylan as Calvin in Wilf, by James Ley

Wilf, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh ****

Hansel and Gretel, The Brunton, Musselburgh ***

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Calvin is the hero of the Traverse’s hilarious and mind-blowing Christmas Show for 2021, Wilf, and his problem is that he over-shares. Whether it’s the detail of his horrendous relationship with his abusive boyfriend Sean, or the wild sexual fantasy life he conducts both during and after it, or the actual wild sex life into which he plunges after he plucks up courage to leave, he just can’t help talking about it.

He talks about it to his long-suffering and brutally frank driving instructor Thelma, who has enough issues of her own to deal with. He witters about it to every man he meets, gay or straight, in the distraught days after the break-up; he even posts it on Instagram, and finds pictures of his vital parts going viral world-wide.

He also talks about it to his new car Wilf, a battered old Volkswagen in which he finally manages to pass his driving test, after only 104 lessons. And, above all, in James Ley’s new comedy about gay love, loss and healing in 21st century Scotland, he talks about it to us, the audience, who become instantly privy to his every thought and orgasm.

Calvin is a lovely guy, though, particularly as brought to life by the irresistible Michael Dylan, and within seconds, he and Thelma – played with breathtaking bluntness and bravado by Irene Allan – have drawn us straight into the heart of his journey, as he begins the rocky transition towards a new and better life by falling passionately in love with Wilf, the trusty automobile that has enabled his escape.

The third member of Gareth Nicholls’s superb cast is Neil John Gibson, who plays all the men Calvin meets along the way with astonishing versatility and pitch-perfect comic timing; one of them, a mouthy teenage philosopher manning an old-fashioned petrol pump on the road to Loch Lomond, seems worthy of a TV series of his own.

Add in a terrific playlist of raunchy and romantic tunes, and some excellent design and movement by Becky Minto and Emily Jane Boyle, and the result is a fine, filthy and brilliantly-paced 85-minute joyride through the psyche of a damaged gay guy gradually learning to care for himself, and one that probably tells us more than is immediately obvious about the society we live in, and the self-destructive pain it can still inflict on those who don’t quite fit in.

There’s also the odd moment of uproarious filth in Hansel and Gretel, this year’s merry and exuberant Christmas show at the Brunton in Musselburgh, but only in exactly the modest quantity that audiences like and expect in a family panto, as dame Graham Crammond, playing a Musselburgh Mother Nature, flirts cheekily with a male victim in the front row. The Brunton panto is Scotland’s local pantomime par excellence, graced with traditional backdrops of East Lothian scenes, from Musselburgh Racecourse to the Bass Rock, and into Carberry Woods, where most of the action takes place.

Written and directed by John Binnie, this version of Hansel and Gretel occasionally seems to lose sight of its own plot, allowing some of its comic sequences to drift on a little too long.

It boasts a lovely Gretel in Eilidh Weir, though, with a belter of a singing voice, and a terrific Wicked Stepmother and Witch in Wendy Seager, and with teams of local youngsters providing the song and dance routines, the show emerges as a joyful Christmas celebration for a living community, without pretension, and full of heart.

Wilf is at the Traverse, Edinburgh until 24 December; Hansel And Gretel is at the Brunton, Musselburgh, until December 31.

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