“What do you dream about I dream about fish what kind of fish goldfish what does it do it pursues me it pursues you it pursues me” blurts a fraught Tom Wainwright before diving headlong into his lurid, recurring nightmare of modern urban minutiae, tin-rattling ‘chuggers’, Tesco Metros, US presidents, conditional racism, fear, idiocy, apathy and more. We can but follow.
It’s a testament to the man’s magnetism that he keeps us firmly locked in during an hour or so’s worth of breakneck, skit-like surrealism, observational comedy and scrupulously precise physical theatre. Wainwright, alone on stage save a solitary goldfish darting around a bowl and a large animated projection screen behind him, is a gifted performer – expressive, agile, irritable – and puts his multimedia aids to good use, occasionally miming his own voiceover and synching his movements to the on-screen imagery. It’s a disconcerting, hyperactive ride.
We open on Tom making his way down a never-ending shopping precinct as the grimy beats of Wiley’s ‘Wearing My Rolex’ thump out the soundtrack, a giant, smirking, stalker goldfish his ubiquitous accomplice. En route, we tick off those familiar bastions of the high street – Gregg’s the bakers, Café Nero, Tesco, Woolworth’s et al – as a flurry of similarly recognisable characters cross his path: the privileged, the ill-informed, the image-conscious, the moronic, and those ever-present street fundraisers; or “Cunts, Fuckwits, Snappers and Sweaty Backs” in the Wainwright vernacular. It’s perhaps here that the show’s at its most hometruth-hitting best – the observations worthy of any stand-up, the impressions astute and during the absurd comings and goings of the Orwellian ‘lunch hour half-hour’, the language is idiosyncratically, hilariously on the button (the perennially underachieving ‘Cling-Film Mafia’, with a penchant for tea that tastes of spoons and a foodwrap fetish strikes an unsettlingly familiar chord).
As we delve further into the dystopia, Tom’s ordeal veers violently into the pseudo-existential as we all struggle to maintain a grip: a mouthful of coffee leads to the excretion of his entire set of bodily organs, a stilted encounter with lifelong hero Harold Pinter ends in triviality, and further intergalactic paddling amongst the “watery wetness of wet jazz” take us deeper into the metaphysical backwoods. It threatens to spiral into confusion, but we’re quickly back on theatrical terra firma and the pervasive undercurrent of inquisition, anxiousness and the forlorn search for something meaningful in amongst life’s mess and insignificance keeps the thing grounded.
Skewering the inanities and caricatures of society 2.0 is hardly a ground-breaking conceit, but it is here – when the material is anchored in the emptiness and banality of city life – that Pedestrian makes its mark. Whilst the dream narrative gives Wainwright free rein to let his imagination run amok, his gift lies in his lithe physicality and an acerbic, well-tuned wit, which, in the hands of director Amelia Sears, powers the engine of this brisk, sensory, supremely funny show that’s both pregnant with wonderfully perverse imagery and just sizzles with ideas. Anything but pedestrian, in short.
Read the Exeunt review of Tom Wainwright’s Muscle.
Pedestrian will also play at the Brewhouse, Taunton, on the 9th June 2011.