Wilf – Traverse Theatre

Written by James Ley

Directed by Gareth Nicholls

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s you’re classic tale: Boy loves boy, boy leaves boy, boy rediscovers himself, and boy trails the highlands and lowlands of Scotland searching for unsolicited sex whilst in his newly christened Volkswagen. Think of it as your classic road-trip film, but with lube, lots of lube. From the spectacular mind of James Ley, who graced the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and with Love Song to Lavender Menace, and the lucky charm which is Gareth Nicholls, Wilf may come as a surprise to any who didn’t adhere to the age warning from Traverse.

Without a doubt, Ley’s end-of-year showcase is one big queer love story about absolutely everything: from loss, loneliness, mental health and buckets and buckets of semen. Wilf sees the blossoming freedom from a troubled relationship come crashing to reality, as Calvin’s sense of openness and lust for adventure belays more sinister issues of self-love and control. 

So, it’s no real secret to the production’s filthy mindset, healthy if a little on the nose, Wilf rightly has little to no interest in holding back the punches, fully embracing what it is. But just what is it? Therapy? A warning? A tale of biographical elements? To a degree, everything and more. Director Nicholls structures Wilf in a riotously humorous way, but attempts something more than this, examining Queer loneliness, self-love and the obsessions with physicality and sex. 

Michael Dylan’s enthusiastic performance carries Wilf, but this isn’t just a comedy of smut and error – the fear and isolation in Dylan’s voice and mannerisms flows through the expectant laughs, and the anguish behind the smiles becomes increasingly prevalent. Dylan’s capability as Calvin rings to the production’s unapologetic defiance and exploration of queer love, and can certainly knock out a power ballad or twelve. 

But no matter how far and fast Calvin may traverse Scotland, there’s no outrunning the distress of the truth, or the narrative for that matter. While the comedy lands and the merit in performance are there, the pacing races ahead of the storytelling, occasionally leaving it by the sideroad. Particularly in the latter half, where the allegory and emotion take a heavier toll, there’s almost a fear of pressing too heavily into the story. The delivery shifts dynamics too, lost in the bombastic energy and physicality.

We all have a pal like Thelma, someone who isn’t strictly our friend and likely has a few restraining orders in place. And Irene Allan is precisely that bawhair away from a criminal record chum Calvin requires. Matching Dylan in veritas and volume, Allan isn’t lost on the stage (though a pink tracksuit is tricky to miss) and fits into the Wilf narrative sublimely – challenging Dylan for the foulest mouth of the night. But where required, there’s a definite tenderness in her performance, but not one of false sincerity – there’s adequate bite and understanding, but plenty of welly left to clip Dylan round the ears when required. 

Aspiring Comic, Fireman, Petrol Pumper, Guardian Angel – Neil John Gibson is a definitive heart of the show and brings additional dimensions with the seeded symbology throughout. Transitioning between multiple parts, Gibson moves swiftly from potential love interest to Kirkcaldy leather-clad infamy with ease, offsetting both Dylan and Allan’s more chaotic presence.

Movement takes a central place, Emily Jane Boyle’s choreography extending beyond the intimacies of dance and infusing movement throughout Wilf. Physical comedy is a huge part of Nicholls direction, both in expression and frantic limb placement. But with this much Bonnie Tyler, Celine Dion and belters of pre-show tunes – it’s expectant to have this much movement throughout. 

Debauched but remarkably tender, Wilf is everything Ley promised and excels expectations in both the gut-punching comedy and the insight into mental health and Queer life. But there are limitations, as the next punchline is leaned into with determination, often placing the storytelling on the back burner for another smut gag. Wilf speaks to legions, and though elements of its voice become watered out, there’s an undeniable involvement from a production with a solid heart and a few indeterminable stains….

Wild runs at the Traverse Theatre until December 24th. Tickets for which can be booked here.

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