Wil Greenway: For the Ground that Grew Me

Thu 6th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Flo Layer

at 22:58 on 12th Aug 2015

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Wil Greenway’s dark, at times depressing, yet oddly lovely and charming storytelling is one of this year’s hidden treasures at the Fringe. Recollections of roast potatoes, presents wrapped up in expensive paper and a dog-chewed gum boot become the central objects in a beautifully earthy collection of stories that are guaranteed to grab your heartstrings tightly and reel you in for a great big hug.

From the very start you feel like a privileged confidant as Greenway directly addresses the audience like old friends (if the intimacy of the warm and tiny venue wasn’t enough to make you feel that way already). Yet the stuffy atmosphere is immediately forgotten as Greenway takes the audience on a journey through his family history; a cemetery morphs into dripping hot Melbourne in February and then back to a rainy London, each transition complete with handmade sound effects.

There is a refreshing darkness and grotesque element to Greenway’s poetic stories that elevate his work above the clichéd and cringeworthy spoken word that clogs up creative writing classes. Each tale is laden with gruesome details; details to make your stomach churn and toes curl. At the same time this is perfectly balanced by a warm sensitivity that is enough to make your heart beat to a slow tempo and your eyes fill to the brim.

Greenway’s delivery is consistently relaxed and comforting, yet as half-told stories are left hanging on a knife edge, and scenes shift backwards and forwards, the show remains incredibly engaging throughout.

Despite the plain magnificence of Greenway’s tales, the show would not be the gem that it is without the added musical dimension performed by Will Galloway and Kathryn Langshaw. On guitar, xylophone and a surprise shaker, Galloway and Langshaw’s folk melodies provided the perfect accompaniment to the show. Their relaxed and engaged presence on stage was never distracting but subtly complimented Greenway’s intimate storytelling – perched on the front row, I almost felt like I was sat amongst close friends.

This is a show with a huge, beating and bloody heart. At the end of his storytelling Greenway modestly and honestly admits “I Love This”. And I have to agree.

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Poppy McLean

at 00:13 on 13th Aug 2015

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Confession Number 1: I’ve never really liked Spoken Word. In the past, its combination of ponderous adolescent naval gazing and perilously strained rhyming pairs has tended to leave me mildly nauseated. Confession Number 2: Wil Greenway has utterly exploded this opinion.

From the moment the bearded, beaming Australian storyteller first addressed his cosy venue in the Underbelly Med Quad, he seemed to hold the audience enraptured. As he danced lightly between moments from his family heritage, his powerfully evocative turns of phrase and his eagle eye for poignant detail drew the audience alongside him into these memories, while his smooth but varied delivery facilitated this transition. Particularly striking was the artful artlessness of Greenway’s speech: I keep wanting to call it poetry, but the impressive crafting which had clearly gone into each of his phrases never demanded attention, avoiding the risk that an audience might appreciate the skill of Greenway’s stories at the expense of their heart.

A similarly impressive balance was struck in the show’s moments of comedy – and, indeed, tragedy: Greenway seemed too assured as a performer to push his audience too hard for laughs, or tears. Furthermore, his fleeting moments of amiable audience interaction and relaxed banter with his accompanying musicians fostered a sense of companionship as he offered to the room his own unique patchwork collection of defining experiences.

Will Galloway and Kathryn Langshaw’s soothing contributions with voice, guitar and xylophone added refreshing diversity to the performance and frequently contributed evocatively to the storytelling. At various points during the performance they played alone, which may have left the audience at first slightly unsure how to respond, but also provided a chance for Greenway’s ideas and imagery to sink in.

Overall, their simple accompaniment added to the generally ‘earthy’ feel of the show, and helped draw the audience alongside the storyteller’s desire for his tales to do more than entertain: striving, as he held each carefully buffed gem of his family history up to the light, to illuminate the primal potency of heritage. As he gradually progressed from fairly whimsical memories to more painful and vulnerable places within his own mental life, his captivated listeners were left in no doubt that the voyage on which they were being led was an achingly personal one, as Greenway, to the haunting acoustic accompaniment of his friends, hymned the sprouting of his nature from ‘the ground that grew him’.

Wil Greenway is a master of words, speaking straight from the heart: if you’re a fan of Spoken Word – but especially if you’re not – I would encourage you to go and see him.

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