Wilf – Traverse Theatre

Written by James Ley

Directed by Gareth Nicholls

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Boy loves boy, boy ditches boy, boy reconnects with himself, boy hitches up and trails across the landscapes of Scotland searching for unsolicited sex in his newly christened Volkswagen…oh, you have?

Perhaps, if you were lucky, you caught James Ley’s utterly grim, boisterous, and raunchy Wilf back in December at the same Traverse Theatre. But this time, they’ve brought more. Snappier direction, more jokes, tighter sphincters scripting and buckets more lube. On its initial outing Ley’s piece was met with a division of sorts from crowds; those who adored its comedically touching stance on mental health with one big Queer love story, and those who wouldn’t admit they did.

Writer and director Ley braves the darkness again, embracing the grittier and grimmer moments of loneliness and loss while keeping the comedy from the previous staging. Going further into the frustrations and anguish of mental health, infusing a more innovative – and in truth, humble, nature to the show. And with Michael Dylan, Irene Allan, and Neil John Gibson return for Wilf’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe run, this was always going to be a big, bold, bulging Fringe smash.

And though not short of confidence in their role previously, the command Dylan portrays with Calvin is far more grounded and authentic given their familiarity with the part. The fear and isolation which flows through Dylan’s body, and out through their mouth ripples the audience with anxious laughter, strong, but they sense the anguish behind the smiles. That is of course, when they’re not knocking out a power ballad or twelve, as good pal Thelma looks on in utter disdain.

We’ve all got that pal, Thelma, someone who isn’t strictly our friend and likely has a bag of cement in the back and a restraining order or two against her. And Scottish theatrical treasure Irene Allan easily holds the title for the foulest performance of the evening (in all the best ways), matching Dylan for fervour and veritas, but with an undeniable tenderness, no matter how hard Thelma may beat it out of herself. She’s a bawhair away from conviction, but the genuine sincerity in Allen’s filthy, raunchiness provides a substantial bite under Ley’s direction.

Still the aspiring Comic, Fireman, and Guardian Angel, Gibson persists as Ley’s integral heart of the production, complete with all that lovely cuddly symbolism and allegorical characterisation attached. One of the more obvious, and welcome, tightening with the structure of the show, the physical movement and comedy are excellent throughout- Emily Jane Boyle’s choreography pushing past intimate, infusing the very spirit of the power ballad divas we hear at the start, and throughout the show.

Wilf is unapologetic and defiant of expectation, an exploration of queer love with a few belters hidden beneath Becky Minto’s set and leather-clad costume design. And to see any niggles streamlined, to see Dylan somehow push his character of Calvin’s sinister issues with self-love and control to an even more troubling and thus poignantly depraved and painful depths is a warming affair.

To see a production previously outed in the Traverse, and witness the evolving stance of art, to crispen and enhance its assets whilst sacrificing weaknesses; to birth, a sense of clarity is an honour to witness. In December Wilf left Traverse audiences talking. Now it leaves audiences ecstatic.

‘A big, bold, Fringe smash’

Wilf runs at the Traverse Theatre until August 28th.

Tickets for which may be obtained here.

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