A Wondrous Place is a collection of four monologues about four different cities in the north – Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield. As such, it has come into being as a result of collaboration with theatres, supporters and creatives from across the region, which is a really exciting prospect.
Each of the cast of four played a leading role in each story, with the others stepping in as supporting characters as necessary. Lois Maskell’s set, a large white semi-circle with pull out sections creating props and backdrops for each scene was clever, and doubled up as a screen for some rather lovely projections and films from Sam Meech. There was an original soundtrack from Caro C, which worked well to bring a vibrant, filmic feel to the production.
However, the four pieces all suffered the same problems – leaden with exposition, crammed with distracting geographical references and packed full of over-earnest incidental detail. The protagonists of each short play, flushed with the naiveté of youth, were all full of observations on life about as deep and meaningful as an Alanis Morrisette album. “The seagull was looking at me… even the seagulls hate me,” moaned one.
Although the cast was energetic, enthusiastic and roundly competent, it was hard to find a reason to invest in homesick Kathryn Beaumont in Alison Carr’s What Space Between, set in Newcastle; Scouser Adam Search was a victim of Luke Barnes’s melodrama Dog being so overblown the big reveal lost much of its impact; and Joshua Haye’s amnesiac lead in Sheffield love letter Porter’s Brook had all the oversimplified insight of Paul Whitehouse’s ‘it’s brilliant’ Fast Show character.
Mancunian Sarah McDonald Hughes’s Electricity was not perfect, but Sally Hodgkiss played out a sweet romance with a fantasy twist in the only play where the characters really seemed interested in anything outside themselves, and even that took a while. With such potential, A Wondrous Place ended up preaching to the converted with a production of style over substance – pretty much the last thing you could say about the north.