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Wonderman review at Underbelly, Edinburgh – ‘inventive adaptation’

Wonderman at Underbelly, Edinburgh Wonderman at Underbelly, Edinburgh

Roald Dahl used to say that his strange, wayward imagination was the result of a bang on the head he suffered during the Second World War. He believed it unlocked something in him, that it unleashed something.

This intriguing idea is the springboard for Wonderman, Gagglebabble’s mash-up of his better-known stories for grown-ups. An airman writhes on a hospital bed in Alexandria, scared and delirious, his face damaged, drifting in and out of consciousness. Dahl’s stories are stitched into his dreams.  We get versions of Lamb to the Slaughter, The Man from the South, and The Landlady and Pig, along with bits of his autobiographical novel Going Solo.

The League of Gentlemen’s Jeremy Dyson attempted something similar at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2011, but Gagglebabble’s use of song and the woozy hospital setting make for a more effective take on the material. The shifts in tone between stories are nicely handled and there are a couple of deliciously macabre moments, even if the nature of the piece, perhaps inevitably, makes it feel a bit uneven.

Adam Redmore’s increasingly agitated airman is the glue that holds things together, smoothly switching accents as he is swept along from a New York meat-packing plant to a Brighton boarding house by way of a hotel in Jamaica.

Amy Leach’s production is polished and inventive, if a little safe. Entertaining though it often is, it delivers little that is truly unexpected.

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Inventive adaptation of Roald Dahl’s short stories plays it slightly too safe