This has to be a play with the most “I love yous” exchanged within a single show. Ever. So, the question stands: on top of the grief-focused script, do these ongoing romantic statements complement a touching, emotional story, without a cheesy aftertaste? Worry not, this production keeps a mix of laughter, romance and sadness in check. “Wreckage” is a captivating queer love story, which balances a timeline of ordinary days with the absolutely life-changing moments. Its non-linear structure delivers a story that keeps the audience charmed till the very last minute.
“Wreckage” follows the meeting, first date and relationship of Sam (Tom Ratcliffe) and Noel (Michael Walters). Two men from slightly different worlds, with a 10-year age difference, varied levels of sarcasm in their language and a totally different view on marriage. Yet, the two of them work well in a relationship somehow, becoming each other’s support pillars and inspiration sources.
Sam and Noel’s relationship is not perfect – as we find later in the show, the couple had some issues – but it’s suddenly cut short by an unexpected car incident, which takes the life of Noel. Sam has to face his grief and an empty home, now just a sad reminder of the old times. But Noel never really leaves – he hangs around, to make sure his fiancé is ok…
Taking into account the heavy theme of the show, I had high expectations in terms of how emotionally moved I wanted to feel throughout. The show’s script didn’t make it easy at first – it’s a slow burn with many lukewarm scenes that eventually lead to an explosive, dramatic, and captivating finale. But when it rains, it pours – this time with tears. The way the show delivers the final, impactful minutes of the show is well-balanced and unexpectedly quiet. The end of the story heavily relies on the projection screen behind the actors’ backs – and this minimalistic form worked like a charm to bring on the emotional load.
The production is brought to life on stage by Ratcliffe, who’s also the writer of the show, and Walters, who plays Noel, but also the additional minor role of Christian, Sam’s next love interest. Both Ratcliffe and Walters create relatable, very different portrayals of the emotional stages of grief.
Walters gets a bit more opportunity to shine, thanks to the way his character is scripted. Between the slightly American sense of humour, a ballsy first date invitation scene, and over-the-top moment of despair, where he cries while rolling on the floor – the role is a challenge. It also requires snap-quick switches between timelines and characters, and Walters creates a persona that’s unmistakable and saturated with joy de Vivre, until the very last moments…
Ratcliffe creates a cohesive persona of a younger partner in the relationship. Sam is uncertain of himself, his education and his plans for the future, while having a strong stand on other issues, like marriage as an institution. He still scrambles to make his life more organised – with one of the “quick fix” situations leading to Noel’s car accident, he blames himself and dives deep into misery.
I was impressed by the strong vocal delivery of both roles. Actors play without microphones, and showcase impeccable articulation skills, but are at times choked by the sound of trains passing above the theatre’s ceiling. But even despite the occasional noise, they still deliver a fantastic performance.
The stage and the auditorium are draped with ivy leaves. At first, the plants look like random decor, but as the plot progresses, the leaves turn into a symbol of sticking to the past, and the past holding people down. It’s a simple yet relatable metaphor and creates an uninterrupted connection between the stage and the auditorium.
“Wreckage” is shaped like a real-life relationship: it has its ups and downs, but most of the time, it’s just…life. That balance is what makes the production so relatable, not just to LGBT+ folks, but to anyone who’s ever been in a relationship or gone through the loss of a partner. It’s a great show to take your significant other to – and start the “what if” conversation between you after you leave the auditorium.
by Tom Ratcliffe
Turbine Theatre, 5-22 January 2023
Tom Ratcliffe – Sam & Writer
Michael Walters – Noel / Christian
Rikki Beadle-Blair – Director & Designer
Mwen – Sound Designer
Rachel Sampley – Lighting Designer
Denholm Spurr – Stage Graphics Arts Director
Nadine Rennie – Casting Director
Rory Davies – Producer
Daniel Bell – Associate Producer
Ryan Anstey – Technical Manager
Steph Weaver – Stage Manager
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