Seen at the Bristol Old Vic.
Sonny is a quiet 12-year-old schoolboy; he doesn’t speak much. Not because he doesn’t have anything to say; his mind if full of creative ideas which he’s almost bursting to share. But he’s ashamed and embarrassed about a debilitating stammer.
In his theatrical debut Raphel Famotibe gives a disarming, heartfelt performance as Sonny; as he struggles to come to terms with life in foster care after the death of his mum, his stammer and being thrown into the spotlight when the new headteacher casts him as a soldier in Hamlet.
He’s befriended by Roshi (an outstanding performance by Juliet Agnes) who, unlike Sonny, is never lost for words. Her synopsis of Hamlet had the audience roaring! Both kids are lost in a school system where they are mis-understood and just don’t seem to fit. Both find different avenues to express their personality. Roshi, comically on the edge of legality – stealing doughnuts and a gerbil to cement their friendship.
Sonny’s diversion is drawing. For all his outward silence, Sonny’s inner dialogue is vibrant, crazy, 100% alive; fuelled by his own comic book creation - Captain Chatter (superbly portrayed by Ramesh Mayyappan) - at times a solace and refuge, at other times a critic and interference.
When Sonny is sent to ‘Behaviour Development Sessions’, with Ryvita munching, straight talking teacher Ms Wainwright (Amanda Lawrence), the two start to form a bond that ultimately takes Sonny on this Wonder Boy journey. Lawrence is superb. Far from tying to be a ‘down with the kids’ teacher, she understands these kids were ‘born into the cracks’. She treats Sonny like an adult; direct, forceful but ultimately patient and caring; when she cites school policy “I’m not allowed to hug you” the care is tangible.
What Bristol playwright Ross Willis and award-winning director Sally Cookson have created in Wonder Boy is 90 minutes of unmissable, dynamic theatre. It never shys away from the emotional turmoil of a boy who wants to soar but is tethered by his inner demons, but draws in equal measure on the humanity of connection.
This is play is about communication; and the way it communicates is entertaining, vivacious, colourful and bold. Highly recommended.