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Edinburgh Fringe 2022 reviews: Ode to Joy / Wilf | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2022 reviews: Ode to Joy / Wilf

Edinburgh Fringe 2022 reviews: Ode to Joy / Wilf

Two plays by Scottish writer James Ley set out to shock, provoke – and provide belly laughs too

Ode to Joy: deliberately dirty, defiantly joyfulTommy Ga-Ken Wan

Ode to Joy (How Gordon Got to Go to the Nasty Pig Party), Summerhall

You receive a glossary on your way in to James Ley’s high-voltage, high-camp Ode to Joy in the ancient, steeply raked lecture hall-cum-theatre of Summerhall’s Demonstration Room. Or to give the play its correct title, Ode to Joy (How Gordon Got to Go to the Nasty Pig Party). And if you’re not up to speed on Mandy, Ket and Pig Play, that glossary might well come in handy.

Ode to Joy is a raucous, breathless, larger-than-life hour of theatre, and one whose title sums the work up perfectly: it’s a paean to pleasure, a heartfelt tribute to hedonism, a celebration of grasping life in all its messy contradictions – of joy, in fact, as an act of defiance.

And the play follows somewhat straight-laced Gordon from his job as a junior lawyer at the Scottish Government to kinky sex parties at the Leith Malmaison (who knew?), via burgeoning sex-buddy friendships with Cumpig/Marcus and his husband Manpussy/Tom (yes, it’s that kind of show), all the way to the no-holds-barred and slightly scary full-on hedonism of notorious Berlin nightclub Berghain.

It’s a blisteringly funny, shocking, deliberately dirty show, with full-volume, unshakeably committed performances from its trio of actors – somewhat cartoonish, admittedly, but no less persuasive for that. Brian Evans is a simpering, needy Gordon who learns to accept and celebrate all his messy contradictions, Marc MacKinnon commands the stage as narrator Manpussy, and Sean Connor is all pent-up energy and wide-eyed eagerness as an athletic Cumpig.

Yes, it’s full of filth. More importantly, though, that filth is here a cause for celebration, even defiance, rather than a symptom of degeneracy or debauchery. And if there’s ever been a time when we need to be reminded of the pleasures of existence, and how far humans will go to achieve them, it’s surely now.


WilfWilf, Traverse Theatre

Across town, playwright James Ley has another play shocking and provoking Fringe audiences, this time in a revival of the Traverse Theatre’s 2021 Christmas show, Wilf. Not that there’s anything remotely seasonal about it. And here, too, there’s no less shock value – though interestingly, despite its similarities to Ode to Joy, Ley’s themes are somewhat darker here. The eponymous Wilf is not the play’s hero, but instead the crummy, delapidated car of protagonist Calvin, who’s just passed his driving test, dumped his boyfriend, and set out on a Highland adventure up the A82.

Calvin, though, is a deeply damaged creation, desperately searching for the same kind of casual, use-me sex as Ode to Joy’s Gordon, but wounded by his indifferent, born-again-Christian mother, who’s jetted off to America, and by his boyfriend’s casual abuse. It’s hardly surprising, really, that for love – and, yes, physical love – he should turn to the one thing in his life he can depend on. Yes, that’d be Wilf.

Though Wilf strikes a similar tone to that of Ode to Joy, it’s a very different work: the play’s moments of greatest sexual shock are not a celebration of pleasure, but instead red flags of damage and self-delusion. Nonetheless, it’s a cracking, fast-paced, gut-hurtingly funny show in Gareth Nicholls’s quickfire production. Michael Dylan (pictured above with Neil John Gibson, picture by Lottie Amor) gives a blisteringly energetic performance as Calvin, all nervy energy and screaming neediness, and keeps his energy up while on stage for the play’s entire duration. Irene Allan is scathing and potty-mouthed as Calvin’s reluctant driving instructor-cum-therapist Thelma, while Neil John Gibson morphs brilliantly between a whole range of roles, including the shy stand-up that Calvin might just end up with.

Wilf is in many ways Ode to Joy’s darker cousin, with the same outrageous, couldn’t-give-a-toss humour, but used here to explore – really quite effectively – mental instability and breakdown. That said, it’s no less of a wild ride.

'Ode to Joy' is a paean to pleasure, a heartfelt tribute to hedonism

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