Wingman by Richard Marsh
– reviewed by James Webster –
Richard Marsh‘s two-man poetry play is a marvel of wit and emotion. Like all good comedies, the gags flow thick and fast, rich with wit and dexterous wordplay. What makes it a great comedy is that the jokes are rooted in deep and powerful emotion, as Marsh twines together his twin narratives of fatherhood into a hilarious and moving tale.
Those familiar with Marsh‘s work will be unsurprised by the calibre of the writing and performance, his one-man Skittles was a colourful and bittersweet joy, while his Dirty Great Love Story was a fantastically grubby, lively subversion and reclamation of the romantic comedy genre. Wingman is another showcase for his inventive word-wrangling and intricate plotting, delivering a tight comedy that’s constantly tickling the audience into laughter and lands a hefty emotional punch too.
The story follows protagonist Richard through his mother’s illness to the re-emergence of his estranged father and an accidental pregnancy with a co-worker, the meat of the narrative provided by his father Len’s outlandish and manipulative attempts to reconnect with his son and Richard’s struggles to deal with his own potential parenthood alongside the brilliant (but under-utilised) character of Brigitte. The plot careens along, constructing a series of absurd situation and tiny moments of emotional resonance, each twist of the plot barrelling us into the next comically unlikely situation (from taking a bath with his dad to a hilarious act of coitus interruptus); it’s an expert example of comic plotting. Each strand of the story is nicely geared to shed light on the other, both of Richard’s fatherhood narratives informing the other and making for a richer, more insightful story.
The story is further enriched by the wonderfully drawn cast of characters; Richard’s mother has a spiky voice and overbearing demand for grandchildren that infuses life into the story long after she’s left it (wanting to outlive all her relatives, she kept track with a “death spreadsheet” and we’re told at her funeral that each guest is a “personal failure”). Len (Richard’s dad) has a blithely deliberate ignorance of social propriety (repeatedly breaking in to Richard’s flat and stalking Richard on social media), offbeat charm and strange brand of emotional support (waiting in the car park with cans of Stella after a particularly emotional encounter) makes for a really rounded and engaging presence (a laugh-out-loud and poignant performance by Jerome Wright). Our protagonist is a tangled ball of insecurity, affection and beautiful sarcasm (“How’s your life?” “How’s yours? Nearly over obviously.”) and his sniping comments and vicious asides about his father are one of the many things that make the piece sparkle. Brigitte is a highlight, a ball of self-assured and brash Welsh invective (“Don’t fuck with the Welsh, we’ll fuck up your life and we’ll fuck up your dead”), but the focus on the male relationships of the show meant she was a sadly minor character (I mean, it’s understandable, it’s a tale about fatherhood, but it does make the play seem oddly imbalanced).
Throughout, Marsh‘s talent for wordplay and humour shines through. His language is endlessly creative, capturing all of life’s filthy, frustrating and gorgeous moments, demonstrating a captivating and amusing turn of phrase. He’s got an eye for the dirty jokes, theatrical set-pieces and little emotional pinpricks that bring the script to life with winking wordplay.
What was frustrating, however, was that Richard’s sarky nature seemed to get in the way of any real character development, while he gains a better understanding of his father, the relationship with Brigitte doesn’t get as much time and sometimes seems forced (which feels only partly intentional). The romantic subplot takes a backseat to his father’s redemption and Richard’s own happy-ending doesn’t feel like it’s entirely earned as it didn’t feel to me like he had changed or learned that much about himself.
That said, this is still a top-class production that will fill your ears with glittering words, strain your stomach with laughter and maybe tease the odd tear from your eye.
Star Rating: 4/5
Wingman is on until 25th August at Dome 10 at the Pleasance Dome (venue 23) at 2.10pm. Tickets here.