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Wilderness Festival 2017 review – ‘engaging and inventive theatre performances’

Katie Bonna in All the Things I Lied About. Photo: The Other Richard Katie Bonna in All the Things I Lied About. Photo: The Other Richard
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The queue outside the Playhouse, Wilderness Festival’s intimate, blue-domed theatre, is 50-people deep as early as 40 minutes before the start of Katie Bonna’s All the Things I Lied About (★★★★) – a show so caustic, so brave and so funny that it has two performances on the same day.

Bonna begins with a witty, informal introduction to the concept of her show: why we lie, and how often we do it. This is followed by a TED talk-style lecture about lying, which has the cadence of stand-up. But beneath these hilarious artifices is a work of confession so sincerely performed between the comedic ‘bits’ that it is often difficult to watch. For all that this is a piece about the post-truth world as exemplified by Trump and the Brexit debate, Bonna talks the personal more than she does the political. Never has an impression of Alan Partridge been so emotionally resonant.

This year’s Wilderness also features an exciting programme of new work from Camden People’s Theatre. Saturday’s highlight is Elephant and Castle (★★★★) by Tom Adams and Lillian Henley. A bijou musical about Adams’ parasomnia, it is tightly, freshly executed. Paisley pyjamaed, Adams and Henley chart the progress of their relationship and the science behind parasomnia through songs. These are often jolly and Bill Bailey-esque, but some are surprisingly haunting – parasomnia can be a frightening thing to deal with. Henley’s extraordinary voice and the pair’s distinctive, appealing onstage chemistry make this show.

Camden People’s Theatre offers an hour of works in progress with its Big Bang presentation, the most promising of which is The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale (★★★★) by Haley McGee, a refreshingly unshowy, vibrantly delivered one-woman piece about the gifts McGee has received from ex-boyfriends. She explains that she is planning on selling said gifts to make some cash. She tries to work out how much each item is worth, based on a complex equation that will take sex (good or bad), suffering (his or hers), love (there or not) and fun (had or missed) into consideration. McGee does metatextuality with suppleness and confidence, commenting on the construction of the show even as she’s tangled in its brilliant, autobiographical narrative.

Wilderness’ open-air theatre, the Atrium – a sophisticated stage with the charm of a village fete platform – was the scene of Benedict Cumberbatch’s surprise performance, as well as some excellent dance pieces. Eclipsing even the gorgeous, complex work of Company Wayne McGregor is Cape Alley (★★★), a performance of lyrical breakdancing by Sam Amos of TrashDollys, which draws wandering, hungover audience members from across the field. Seamlessly blending breaking technique with expressive elements of contemporary dance, Amos curls the air around him. This year’s theatre and dance performances at Wilderness have not shied away from challenging the audience, and this has paid off.

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Engaging and inventive, Wilderness succeeds in consistently challenging and entertaining with its theatre selection