Juliet Stevenson obviously likes physically challenging roles. The last time I saw her at the Young Vic, she was buried up to her neck for the duration of the play. In Wings she has much more freedom of movement but is suspended in a harness above the stage, only occasionally touching down for brief scenes.
It's a clever device for telling the story of Emily, aviator and wing walker, who suffers a mentally debilitating stroke. For an hour and 15 minutes we watch as she tries to make sense of her surroundings and then how she now views and interacts with the world.
At first she feels like she is in some sort of prison, unable to make out her hospital surroundings, the words in her head not sounding like quite like they should. Her memory plays tricks on her, she cannot determine what is real or what is a dream. She gets snatches of recollection of her life and language, physically representing her feelings as she floats above those trying to help her. Occasionally they pull her back down to earth.
When she is physically more able, the struggle in her head continues, finding the words and memories her damaged brain won't naturally recall. There is a therapy session with fellow stroke sufferers; when asked to point to their elbow one finger points to the corner of the ceiling - it's as if a part of the brain has not so much been disconnected but is slightly out of kilter.
Juliet Stevenson, looks completely at home on the wire moving with an elegance and grace that I'm sure belies the effort and difficulty. It works well as a visual representation of what Emily is going through - and what flying means to her. There is a sense of the freedom she feels when she is up in the air, a freedom she perhaps doesn't enjoy when on solid ground.
There are other moments of insight too but it feels that if the flying device was removed there wouldn't be quite enough in the play to properly sustain the narrative. I'm giving Wings four stars and it runs at the Young Vic until Nov 4.