By Lucinda Naughton
Will Eno’s Wakey, Wakey is a slow and thoughtful piece of theatre. It is certainly driven by dialogue and ideas rather than action as it concerns itself with one character’s last moments. Guy, played by Justin Hosking, sits in a wheelchair and contemplates life towards the end of his own. Eno encourages his audience to look at how we see the world and if those preconceptions can be challenged. The play seeks truth with a warm-hearted and insightfully funny approach.
I confess and acknowledge this review is contradictory, interestingly much like the character of Guy.
Exploring ‘big ideas’ can fail in execution as the talk can easily be pretentious and simply a platform for the writer to satisfy their own personal agenda. For me, this is not the case for Wakey, Wakey; however, there are complications. The ideas were not pushed on the audience; they were simply discussed and curiously explored by a man with nothing left to do but reflect. So, this somewhat works; what doesn’t quite succeed is that some of the ideas and topics discussed, Eno leaves unfinished and not deeply fleshed out. This had the effect of setting the audience up for revelation, without quite delivering.
The ideas were constantly contradicted by Guy, which further complicated things. However, I did not find this frustrating or pretentious as could be the case. I instead feel the piece is trying to get the audience to think and interpret for themselves, rather than giving us every answer (“I don’t know what to say”), reflecting perhaps the idea that even being on your deathbed does not make you suddenly ‘all-knowing’. Life’s most difficult questions don’t have easy answers – so know you’re not about to get them here.
In saying this, there are moments of poetry which are gripping and thought provoking in their relatability and truth. Such as, “Who you are now is who you’ll be on your deathbed”; and the idea that a little nudge from someone can change your life trajectory entirely so that it becomes “a tribute to them”.
David Myles’ direction gives weight to the content of the piece beautifully by keeping the focus on the monologue. Hosking’s performance had depth and charm. He did well with a difficult usual character – the play is perhaps so focused on being thoughtful that it’s almost as though Eno doesn’t want us to care for the character so much as the unfinished ideas, although empathy is felt in moments of Guy’s pain that effectively pierce through the warm atmosphere he creates.
I unfortunately found myself distracted by trying to figure out who we, the audience, are in relation to Hosking’s character. It is unclear to me whether we are a part of Guy’s imagination and he’s really talking to himself, or if he is actually talking to us directly. It makes the direct audience address difficult to interpret as I did not know if we were genuine or non-existent to the character. The confusion also caused some of the jokes to fall flat and to take away from Hosking’s performance. Nicole Nabout’s entrance as Guy’s carer about halfway through the piece made me think he was imagining us; however, I was never certain, which was a little diverting. Although, perhaps this is Eno’s aim – to challenge the audience and make us feel uncomfortable in a subtle way.
Nabout’s entrance brings much life to the scene, physically and metaphorically. Her character breaks the scene, forcing a reality check for Guy and consequently showing the reality of his situation to the audience. Nabout brings warmth and genuineness to the stage, the perfect companion and interpreter.
The play ends on a hopeful note, the carer telling us that Guy says to take care of each other, before she wheels him off and there’s a beautiful projection of stars.
James Lew’s set design is simply stark and effectively adds to the themes of the piece. There is no clutter, no photos, no personal belongings. It looks like a nursing home and the plainness is symbolic of a hospital atmosphere. There are packing boxes lining upstage, representative of Guy’s immortality. Law’s costume design also adds to the tone; Guy wears a suit jacket with pyjama pants, reflecting his own confusion and lack of complete awareness. Lucas Silva-Myles’ lighting design is very inventive and helps with the humour in Guy’s speech.
Marshall White’s AV design adds a great visual element. There are nostalgic childhood and family photos Guy flicks through; and at the end of the play there some seriously beautiful and trippy visual effects.
Wakey, Wakey is beautiful and thoughtful. I enjoyed its evocativeness and simple execution that drew the focus on the ideas explored.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.