Enter a young girl’s magical world to watch her learn how to leave it behind
Wander opens to our protagonist, Faryn (Sophia Sheera), sleeping in a tree next to her parent figure, Elder (Ruby Kwong), whose protective hand rests on her until the moment she wakes. Everything from the warm purple lighting, to the soft sounds of yawning and whistling wind, to the over-sized mushrooms that separate the audience from Faryn, tells us we are in a land of fairy tales. Over the course of the play, we follow Faryn as she encounters various characters’ stories and completes her own.
Faryn has lived her entire life collecting stories and bringing them back to tell to Elder, just as her mother did before her, and her mother before that. One day she wanders further than usual, to a village where she meets Kensa, a lively girl who immediately takes a liking to Faryn and decides to pull her out of her shell. What follows is a coming-of-age story about love, adventure, and letting go of the past.
The strength of the play is found just as much in the cast as in the writing. At times it risked becoming overly cheesy, but managed to avoided that trap in favour of tenderness and sincerity. Sheera is a strong lead as Faryn, though the standout performances come from Elder and Kensa. Elder, who tries to push Faryn out of the nest while simultaneously holding on to her, conveys the physical pain of age and the emotional pain of losing a child with subtlety and power. Contrasting with Elder’s quiet poignancy is Saskia Ross’ bright and charming performance as Kensa. I was struck by how well Kensa and Faryn play off each other with their body language, selling nervous flirtatiousness and genuine connection throughout.
Wander’s supporting ensemble is also solid. Grace (Grace Glevery) had me laughing at every turn – her banter with Comrie (Comrie Saville-Ferguson) in the scene where Kensa introduces Faryn to her friends injects some much-needed realism and humour into the dramatic journey. Hannah (Hannah Shury-Smith), the weeping woman, is played with just the right combination of apathy and desperation, conveying her character’s loneliness and bringing some much-needed punch to a scene whose ultimate purpose is to deliver a heavy-handed metaphor. Alicia (Alicia Lethbridge), the mayor, was a little stiff, and Lethbridge performed more naturally as the king in the second story of the night.
The whole cast comes together to produce some brilliant visual storytelling. Miniature silhouettes, a hand-operated nightingale prop, and some beautiful dancing all add to the magic. The actors themselves comprise the forest that Faryn must traverse twice: they become snakes, moving trees, and a swarm of bugs (the latter of which forlornly retrieves one of their own when Faryn crushes her). The choice not to have any dialogue for minutes on end in favour of emphasising movement and sound pays off. The music is well-chosen (I especially like the use of the ticking clock), though what stood out to me more was the excellent use of silence to punctuate emotional scenes.
Wander is at turns funny, sometimes heart-breaking, often charming, above all tender and uplifting. ‘A bit moralistic’, Faryn quips about the first story she hears, and the same could be said for her own fairy tale. If it were so, it is only on paper, because the multi-layered characters and the cast that plays them turn the play into something fresh and smart, and definitely worth the watch. For co-directors Claire Takami Siljedahl & Faye Guy, it is an impressive achievement. The over-arching narrative may be predictable, but that’s the point: the ending is as inevitable as the simple fact of growing up, and Faryn sells it so well that I had a smile on my face until long after the curtain had fallen.
Wander is on at the ADC until Saturday, 24th February. Tickets are £9-£12 Wed/Thu, £9-£13 Fri/Sat.