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Wil Greenway: These Trees the Autumn Leaves Alone review

| Comedy, Music, Theatre | 29/08/2017


Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Greenway takes his audience on another visceral journey with his latest lyrical tale of courage and memory.

In our Edinburgh Fringe preview, we predicted that Wil Greenway would soon rise to the top of the comedy storytellers.  After the Australian’s performances this month, he’s surely close to achieving this goal and gaining the recognition he deserves.  As with previous show The Way The City Ate The Stars, These Trees the Autumn Leaves Alone tells an atmospheric and entertaining story set in South-East Australia.  Its facts may be less dramatic but, as Greenway’s fans have come to expect, the destination is less important than the journey.

On this route, he’s joined by his usual collaborators – singer Kathryn Langshaw and guitarist Will Galloway – whose melodic interventions add a folksy, dreamlike quality, but who play little part in acting out the tale.  Greenway apologises for the fact his audience has to use their imaginations instead – unnecessary given how clearly and completely his words paint a picture.

His delivery is near perfection, retaining focus by amusingly splicing poetic descriptions with Australian realism, such as when “clarity fumbles into the room like a bow-legged Doberman”.  And linking human attributes to the natural world is becoming a charming calling card, here describing how rainfall results from one drop being brave enough to leave the cloud, before others follow and “soon it’s shitting it down likes a two-year-old in a supermarket, all fists and teeth”.

Greenway tells the story of an overweight loner, Ernie, who has little going for him other than his lucky shirt.  He’s looked down upon by everyone he comes across and lives only for the end of each working day which “comes around as certainly as every cricket club has a racist with a moustache.”  The one exception is an old flame, Olive, who Ernie sees one day on the tram, rekindling memories of happier times.

These characters populate the narrative, but the show’s really about nature, courage and memory.  It’s set in Melbourne in May – when Autumn strips the trees, leaving behind, in certain eyes, something less.  Ernie’s also been lessened by time but Greenway’s quick to sympathetically unmask aspects of bravery in him, praising Ernie for carrying on and urging him to resist the dark thoughts that assemble whenever he sees a reflection of his “pale, fat and ugly body”.  And, unlike in his previous show, the narrator rewards his creation with a happy ending – to spontaneous “aws” in the crowd – even if it could prove only momentary respite from his troubles.

That’s enough for Greenway, who – with moist-eyed enthusiasm – says each moment makes us who we are and can never be erased.  Or, as Langshaw poignantly sings, “Leaves are not nothing, they’re just not trees anymore.”  Just as Ernie will never forget his time with Olive, Greenway tells his audience he wants them to remember their shared journey.  On this form, it’s hard not to.

Wil Greenway performed ‘These Trees the Autumn Leaves Alone’ at the Edinburgh Fringe during August at Underbelly Med Quad.  See Wil’s official website or follow him on Twitter @wilgreenway for details of his next London shows.

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