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Wil Greenway: The Way The City Ate The Stars review

| Comedy, Music, Theatre | 20/07/2017


Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Greenway elevates the art of storytelling with this lyrical, moving, funny and compassionate tale of love and tragedy in South-East Australia.

Eleven months ago, I reviewed Sarah Kendall’s show, Shaken.  In hindsight, and having listened to more of her work since on Radio 4, she perhaps deserved more than three stars.  However, I stand by the assertion that for storytelling to work effectively live, “it needs a higher laughter-count, or a more vulnerable and relatable narrator.  Kendall’s very talented, but projects an Antipodean toughness from the moment she bounds onstage talking forcefully about dick drawings and bowel movements.  As a result, she finds it hard to generate much sympathy from an admittedly difficult crowd, necessary before embarking on a story that portrays her younger self so unfavourably.”

I restate this to contrast Kendall’s countryman, Wil Greenway, who last night delivered an equally challenging story at Soho Theatre with a different outcome.  When he entered the stage after a short introduction from his folksy, melodious backing musicians (Will Galloway and Kathryn Langshaw), I was ready for a similarly forthright, Kendall-esque approach, given the Melburnian’s solid frame, thick auburn beard and topknot.  But it quickly became clear that Greenway’s a gentler type of performer and someone who could end up going very far.

WillGreenaway-700x455His tale’s an interesting one: a story initially of unrequited love, as he falls for a girl called Margaret, who later has a child with Andrew – “a complete arsehole”; then hope, as Margaret accidentally texts Greenway during her labour, saying she wants to see him; and finally tragedy, as his journey to see her on Christmas Day coincides with others, ending in disaster and a moving phone call to his mother.

But what elevates the tale to such a beautiful piece of theatre is Greenway’s love of language and tender delivery.

He plays with the audience, oscillating between graceful similes (“I hold her like a secret”) and poetic descriptions of sights, sounds and smells (“the way the city ate the stars”), and far cruder constructions (“her pregnant belly was like a baby aquarium with a gut full of the future”) that help keep the crowd focused.  He also layers his characters cleverly, offering up unfavourable information before always arriving at an end-point of compassion – even for the arsehole.

Alongside, clever theatrical tricks support the storytelling: amusing impressions to lighten moods, musical interludes in which Greenway crouches to surrender the stage and convey humility, and simple finger clicks to denote the passing of time.  And he’s particularly strong on time, recognising that his story offers only a snapshot with a neat comment on how each day is a small life “joined together with others in a paper doll chain to become you.”

Greenway applies all of these tools to construct something moving – by the end, almost unbearably so, as he retreats off stage, eyes swollen with tears; funny – even when relying on a couple of corny lines from an earlier generation; and close to unmissable.  His new Edinburgh show, These Trees The Autumn Leaves Alone, will certainly be one to watch.

As I began with a quote, it seems apt to end with one.  Daniel Kitson – who knows a thing or two about live comedy and theatre – said about this show: “It’s dense and rich and fanciful and somehow still entirely grounded.  I, genuinely at the end, after laughing and thinking and feeling for an hour, had a single tear rolling down my right check.  Not, bloody, bad.”  Not bloody bad indeed.

Wil Greenway performed ‘The Way The City Ate The Stars’ on 18th and 19th July at Soho Theatre.  He will be performing his new Edinburgh Fringe show, ‘These Trees The Autumn Leaves Alone’, from 16:10 at Underbelly Med Quad between 3rd – 13th and 15th – 27th August.  Get tickets here.  See Wil’s official website or follow him on Twitter @wilgreenway for details of upcoming London shows.

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