As I enter the King’s Arms theatre, a pub/theatre hybrid, full of artist’s studios and creative spaces, where a stencil of John Cooper Clarke adorns the smoking area, I feel the familiar hubbub of creativity a good fringe environment produces. It is one of 30 venues on the Greater Manchester Fringe, an Arts Council Funded theatre fringe festival that has grown in popularity since it began in 2012.
I did not know what to expect of Manatee Theatre’s debut show Wendy to the Waterfall, written and directed by Matthew Smith – but the bizarre plot synopsis had peaked my interest. The conceit is a psychiatric patient, Wendy, who is so obsessed with cinema she plans an escape from the psychiatric hospital to see a screening of her favourite film.
Smith, a graduate of the Everyman & Playhouse Playwright’s programme, steers the script and direction with a precise and playful use of language, regularly using alliteration and fanciful phrasing that nods to the world of early cinema.
The charismatic Abi Standish, showing her background in comedy and improve, commands our attention with a fantastic leading performance as Wendy, flitting into her escapist fantasies and back seamlessly, assisted by the mood-setting sound design and slick technical magic of Eliyana Evans. You’re never entirely sure whether to trust Standish’s Wendy in her telling of events, as her delusional but charming habit of lying becomes increasingly apparent.
Sam Hughes’ Derek provides the sharp contrast of reality; the witty and intelligent Wendy is brought down to earth though this tense friendship/staff-patient dynamic, away from the escapism of the cinema, in one of the darker moments of the play.
Heather Madden treats the audience with her hilarious and awkward party-planner Austyn in a striking red dress, bum-bag and backpack. Particularly to note is a piece of absurdist rapid dialogue about the ‘dry cleaning business’ that had the audience in stitches.
Jeni Holt-Wright’s set design is clever and multipurpose, constantly transforming as necessary, although as the set changes become more elaborate, the slightly longer scene changes in the second half feel clunky at times.