Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

Verbal diarrhoea

Plus: to stage a larky play about nail bombs in a theatre that adjoins a Tube station is an act of a cretin

In Beckett’s Happy Days a prattling Irish granny is buried waist-deep, and later neck-deep, in a refuse tip whose detritus inspires a rambling 90-minute monologue. ‘An avalanche of tosh’ was the Daily Mail’s succinct summary. Wings is similar but worse. Mrs Stilson (Juliet Stevenson), an American pensioner sheathed in white, hovers over the stage on ropes and talks non-stop gibberish. ‘Three times happened maybe globbidged, rubbidged uff to nothing there try again window up!’ Thus begins her battle with intelligibility. ‘And vinkled I,’ she goes on, ‘commenshed to uh-oh where’s it gone to somewhere flubbished what?’

The cause of her aphasia is unclear but vague images of scudding clouds and snorting biplanes suggest an air crash. She continues to speak nonsense while dangling in midair like a streak of saliva from the lips of a ruminating Friesian. ‘Hapst aporkchop fleetish yes,’ she tells us. Some doctors appear. ‘Are there seven days in a week?’ An interminable pause. ‘Seven, yes,’ she says. We’re making progress. ‘Can you cough, Mrs Tilson?’ ‘I’m not bort you know with plajits or we’d see it wencherday.’ We’re going back again. Finally, we get some information. Nurse: ‘You’ve had what’s called a stroke.’ Right-oh. And what were the biplanes about? No idea. Mrs Tilson, still trussed in her elasticated lederhosen, drops into a clinic where she’s due to be treated alongside two more aphasiacs. The scene that follows is not one Oscar Wilde would have written. In the last moments, her affliction fades and she speaks lucidly about flying, but it’s hard to pay attention because she has, by this stage, comprehensively trashed one’s patience.

Afterwards I read the play’s preface, which solved the mystery. The script arose from a chance encounter between the author and a wing-walker trying to recover from a stroke.

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