REVIEW | The Great Un-Wondering of Wilbur Whittaker | Encouraging children and grown-ups to hold onto their wonder

Review | Laura Money

What would be in your box of wonder? Barking Gecko Theatre present intergenerational audiences with this very question in The Great Un-Wondering of Wilbur Whittaker – a charming tale of adventure and, well wonder! Writer Dan Giovannoni and long-time collaborator Artistic Director Luke Kerridge take a young boy’s sense of wonder at the world and sees him grow up and forget to revel in the marvels of the world. Grown up Wilbur (Adriano Cappelletta) embarks on an epic quest into the far reaches of outer-space to explore his inner space and regain his sense of wonder before he loses it forever. It’s an enduring tale of imagination and our capacity to dream.

As a boy, Wilbur Whittaker is a dreamer. He fills a bright red shoebox with his hopes and dreams and inventions to send him into space. You see, Wilbur wants to travel further in space than anyone else. Then he grows up and his shoebox of dreams is relegated to the dusty realm under his bed. In a cleverly depressing series of vignettes, Cappelletta as Wilbur is rendered boring. Trading his backpack for a bland tie he is buffeted into conformity by Jonathan Oxlade‘s phenomenal set. Sliding beige screens create a boring office cubicle, small dining table, ironing station, and train. Kerridge’s direction encourages dynamic movement that mimics Wilbur’s descent into becoming a cog in the adult world. A production line of bodies jostle on the train, piles of paperwork creep higher and higher, and through Oxlade’s clever sliding panels a mechanical calendar is set. But the beauty of the story is captured when Wilbur actually begins his journey. Following a path to his Guardian of Wonder set on a dimming star, the set and sense of adventure gets marvelously thrilling and surreal.

Drawing on influences from eighties adventure movies and media, Giovannoni creates a sense of nostalgia for a lost childhood – as Wilbur heads to fantastical lands the journey feels familiar with a tinge of a past worth recovering. Not only is the plot super tight and cleverly realised, but the characters are phenomenal – the stand out being Princess Fantastic (Grace Chow) a She-Ra inspired thousand year old badass who is incidentally Wilbur’s Guardian of Wonder. Chow is perfect as the plucky and headstrong Princess, full of energy and sure in her convictions. She reacts as a child would, impulsively running headlong into danger but with such zest for life and wonder she is utterly compelling. With a customised theme tune and killer visuals by Tee Ken Ng she joyfully embeds herself into our hearts. Luke Hewitt and Laura Maitland comprise the ensemble cast and both absolutely nail a swathe of lovable and memorable characters. Hewitt’s turn as the charismatically pompous fox Francis gets the kids giggling, and Maitland’s portrayal of The Seeing Star oracle is hilarious and a bit intimidating. They both thrive as administrators of the Bureau of Wonder with dry Aussie delivery that hits a little too close to home to anyone who has ever been on hold in a customer service queue!

The Great Un-Wondering of Wilbur Whittaker is one of those plays that sparkles with life. It is an important work for children to watch with grown ups and encourages reflection and a sense of adventure. Not only is the work a nostalgic gem, it takes the essence of those eighties fantasy adventures and grounds them in an invitation to reinvigorate a sense of play. Princess Fantastic is one of the purest characters to ever grace our stages, and the endearing charm of Cappelletta’s Wilbur has you rooting for him the whole time. So, what is in your own box of wonder, and is it with you at all times? Let’s hope so as the message of this show is clear – always hold on to your wonder – but don’t worry as there are always ways to get it back.

The Great Un-Wondering of Wilbur Whittaker is on at STCWA this school holidays until 16th April 2022. TICKETS

The Fourth Wall acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land we engage in storytelling on – the Wadjhuk people of the Noongar nation. We pay respects to their elders past, present, and emerging.

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