‘Wrestling the Walrus’ is the winner of the last year's Hodgkiss award. The play tells the story of a young woman who spots an elderly man sitting alone on a park bench and decides to share her lunch with him. The next day the same thing happens and as their meetings continue, they share stories from their lives, but the man becomes a little unsettled and – perhaps that first chance encounter was no accident.
On arrival to the studio theatre of the Royal Exchange to see 154 Collective’s ‘Wrestling the Walrus’, the mishmash of aural and visual vibrancy greeted the audience and set the precedent for an evening of theatrical creativity and bitter sweetness. ‘Wrestling the Walrus’ was a raw and artistic portrayal of life with and consumed by dementia, and I was enthralled throughout.
The acting from the minimal cast; Nik Wood Jones and Leanne Rowley, delivered with precision and flare the heartbreaking dichotomy of the characters’ flawed relationship (which is revealed to be more complex and intimate than initially expected), presenting both; the extreme lengths of unwavering sacrifice and the tenderness of familial love in its purest form.
Leanne Rowley as Gracie and Nik Wood-Jones as Mog
Admittedly, I may not be the target demographic for a play with such multi-modality - blending the textures of animation, music, and live performance, as I enjoy rather more fast-paced and actor-focused narratives when I see a show, instead of the manner in which ‘Wrestling the Walrus’ broke up dramatic moments in order to display projection accompanied by a folksy underscore. The musicians, with their original music, softly narrated the piece well, emphasising the nostalgic, tender, and sometimes sombre tone; however, I felt these moments of artistic demonstration lingered for too long, including cyclical scenes of projected animation that were perhaps futile and at times tedious. That said, even as an outsider to that kind of media, I could appreciate the craftsmanship and artistic ability of the creative team due to the unique style and commendable story-telling ability of the art.
The play in itself is not the easiest watch, between the perhaps clunky integration of animation/projection but more poignantly, at its heart, the raw subject matter of dementia and the bittersweet way it effects the characters in the play. In lighter moments where you see the character of ‘Mog’ relive the joy of his marriage and tell these colourful stories of his life to the eager-to-listen ‘Gracie’, the audience are consumed in these moments that simply come to life as though they were unfolding in front of their eyes. In stark contrast, more sombre moments - such as the painful remembrance of Mog’s wife’s death and the sacrificial collapse of Gracie’s life in order to care for Mog - were successful in allowing the audience to sympathise with the experience of a dementia sufferer and those around them.
This Show Gets:
Altogether, I would recommend you see this play if you are interested in a night of empathy, familial bitter sweetness, and skilful art and storytelling.