Wonder Boy by Ross Willis

Matthew Nichols
Sunday, May 1, 2022

'This play is a treat, exploring the world of Sonny and his stammer'

Wonder Boy
Wonder Boy

I remember the time, two years ago, as the world slid into the first Covid lockdown and schools closed alongside theatres, it started to dawn on the drama teaching community that not only were we in this for the long haul, but that when things started up again we were going to be craving brilliant new theatre. Ross Willis’ glorious new play Wonder Boy is that play; a wholly original voice and a script which is ripe for discovery in the classroom.

The play itself, recently staged at Bristol Old Vic in a production by Sally Cookson, gives us the heart-breaking and heroic protagonist Sonny. He's twelve and an entirely typical boy on the verge of adolescence, apart from having a stammer. Words, vowels, language – it's all a terrifying prospect for Sonny and the situation only becomes more frightening when imposing headteacher Miss Wainwright casts Sonny in the school production of Hamlet. So far so good, but where the play really expands is in the meta world where Sonny creates his very own superhero (Captain Chatter) to help with his stammer.

To say any more would be to spoil the rich joys that reveal themselves as the play unfolds. While it's been a real treat to read and discover the play, how I wish I'd seen Cookson's production; I hope it has a life beyond its Bristol debut. There are some wild (in a good way) stage directions and pages of creative challenges which provide a wealth of opportunity for theatre makers as well as teachers and students discovering this play in the drama studio. As an example, four pages of seemingly random letters, labelled ‘a sea of letters’, provides us with a glimpse into Sonny's world which could be a springboard for an entire half term's work in the drama studio.

This is a play that I will definitely be incorporating into my own teaching, and I can't recommend it highly enough to drama teachers everywhere. This is fantastic writing and would be suited to (probably) Year 9 and above. It's worth noting that there is some strong language in the play, but don't let this put you off. There is so much in this play to make you feel inspired, reenergised and ready to introduce it to your students.