The Martin Harris Centre, Manchester; Wednesday 20th February, 2019
Bolton, Lancashire – the 1880s. Three shillings and sixpence is what it costs for the latest, cutting-edge diagnostics for any man experiencing a sense of mild distress at where his life might be heading. The diagnostics in question? A quick scratch and sniff of his freshly laid s*** sample and the inquisitive attentions of a pseudo-scientific necromancer who boasts of having discovered that a lady’s ankle circumference measurement is directly proportional to her womb volume.
The Adhesion Of Love is a amusingly comical tale based on the remarkable true story of nineteenth century Boltonian John Wallace: an otherwise entirely ordinary man who developed such a deep passion for the literary works of American poet Walt Whitman that he eventually sailed across the Atlantic for a summer holiday in order to meet his hero.
The opening scenes convey a bright and optimistic sense of self-recovery as Wallace goes in search of a bridge between his physical and his spiritual existence in the aftermath of his mother’s death.
The diabolically comical encounter with a dubious psychic reveals two things to him: Wallace is told that he has a greatly enlarged capacity for “adhesive love”; even more mysterious though is a prophetic vision of the initials “WW” and an image of lilac flower.
Being a man of poetry, Wallace immediately surmises that this is referring to Walt Whitman.
The Adhesion Of Love tells a full and complete story encompassing Wallace’s creation of a Whitman-themed book club in Bolton, his journey across the Atlantic to meet his hero and, most specifically, the dizzying impact that it all had on Wallace’s self-perception as sexuality, spirituality and emotionality all collided together.
The play’s author Stephen Hornby has produced a subtle and reserved creation that is very much in keeping with the strict Victorian social conservatism in which the action is set. There are hardly any explicit references to homosexuality, at least none that aren’t inserted for good comical value.
The mysterious term “adhesive love” is instead used as a proxy, there’s a sense throughout the show that not being able to talk about it is a huge contributing factor adding to Wallace’s own maelstrom of confusion as to who he is and what he actually wants in life.
Overall, the performance feels a little too hectic. The story contains a huge amount of detail, all of it coming at a fast pace, the boundaries between scenes begin to blur and, in some instances, confusion between characters begins to set in.
But despite this shortcoming in construction, the underlying story itself is fascinating and utterly compelling. Conor Ledger’s lead performance as Wallace is excellent, creating a unlikely yet completely likeable hero. And the casting of Billie Meredith as Walt Whitman adds a wonderful sense of intrigue – in a story entirely about men the presence of a female characterisation of Whitman seems to add a sense of serene calmness and other-worldliness, Meredith’s portrayal is so laid back it’s almost as if Whitman knows all the answers but doesn’t want to share them with anybody.
Ultimately, Wallace doesn’t seem to get his answers, there don’t seem to be any answers for him, just more and more questions. The Adhesion Of Love as a stage performance seems to be very much like the travails of John Wallace – a wild and unpredictable though satisfyingly fulfilling journey rather than a clearly fixed destination.
Photography: Lee Baxter
|Visual pleasure||Slightly lacking in visual stimulus in terms of set and / or backdrop; though the costumes were all very elegant and convincing.||2|
|Auditory pleasure||A solitary banjo player provided occasional filler music between scenes which was rather apt in terms of creating a sense of Americana, though there was not enough of it.||3|
|Architecture & Theme||An excellent storyline and a very strong concept for a stage play but there seemed to be far too much detail inserted which was clearly making all the performers rush their lines.||3|
|Artistic delivery||Good performances with most actors delivering multiple parts. Got a little confusing when switches took place though, wasn’t always easy to work out which character was being portrayed.||3|
|Overall impact||A great evening’s entertainment based on a fascinating piece of local history. Probably was a little bit longer than it needed to be in order to get the most interesting aspects of the story across.||3|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|