The opening night of Wander was a funny, touching performance with many breath-takingly magical moments. The play is concerned with the fairy-tale self-discovery of Faryn, a 15-year-old girl who lives in the ancient family tree with the spirit Elder but must wander away to seek her own adventures. After journeying through the forest and coming upon a village, Faryn finds herself at a Story-telling Festival where she finally has the chance to meet other teenagers, develops a crush, and attempts to tell her own story. Set in a land of timeless enchantment, Wander gives of the air of having been inspired by the adventures of Alice in Wonderland or the restorative Shakespearian Bohemia interlude in The Winter’s Tale.
What the co-directors and co-writers, Faye Guy and Claire Takami-Siljedahl, have achieved, however, is nothing cliché or regressive. Drawing on Japanese, Scandinavian, Cornish fables about nightingales, hearts of gold and a miniature woman stuck in a vinegar bottle, Wander seeems deeply nostalgic for the insular imagination of childhood whilst also celebrating the advent of sexuality and psychological maturation as a positive and equally joyous adventure. The script by Guy and Takami-Siljedahl dexterously treads the line between naturalism and narrative. This made the far-fetched characters on stage wonderfully realistic and relatable, but also well practised and artful story-tellers that were either thoroughly enjoying themselves or tragically identifying with the tales they told.
Even more extraordinary than the deft writing, however, was the artistic vision behind the direction. Moments of intense emotion and bittersweet poignancy occurred mostly during silence. Instead of needing words to do heavy emotional lifting, Wander is a show cleverly created through physical devising and collaborative exploration, which was a unique joy to watch. The choreography by Daphne Chia was simple but extremely communicative and powerful, with cheeky aspects of child’s play and fantasy. The actors all showed great versatility of movement and voice. Sophia Sheera was convincingly natural in her portrayal of the heart-warming and insecure Faryn, always tipped between fear and curiosity. Ruby Kwong was fantastic in their portrayal of the aged and pained spirit Elder, though I feel more elaboration in the script of their character would have given the performance more substance. The rest of the cast worked very well together: outstanding performances include Alicia Lethbridge as the Emperor, Elise Hagan as a fairy, and Hannah Shury-Smith as the Weeping Woman.
The set designers Ciaran Walsh, Shali Reddy, and Emily Senior did a fantastic job. Faryn’s home – a giant hollowed tree that initially occupied centre-stage – was beautifully laden with notebooks, ropes and dangling trifles. What’s more, the tree could be moved and rotated which provided ample space for scene changes, including screens to be drawn down in front for shadow-puppetry. Other particularly lovely aspects of set design included clouds and a blue cloth river. The production’s sound was minimalistic but nuanced, and not over-done. The composer Arthur Robijns produced understatedly emotional tracts that towards the end of the play were cut and layered to provide interesting effects. The lighting for Wander was in the first scene perhaps a bit too distracting, but it went on to create incredible shadings of colour and shade that were utterly appropriate for the unreal world of the forest.
Overall, Wander was a wistful recollection of childhood that really impresses with it beautiful movement sequences and scenery. It is an original piece of student writing that I hope will be developed in the future, with lots of exciting potential in its acting and directing. A surprise and a pleasure to watch.