Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023 Theatre Review: Wasteman (Assembly George Square Studios) ★★★★

Inspired by performer Joe Leather’s own experiences, Wasteman is a pithy black comedy about a Northern bin-man who learns to put the sparkle back into his life.

Joe Leather in Wasteman. Photo Credit: Corinne Cumming.

Bolton-born Leather’s slickly staged solo show is a real joy to watch. Opening with a drag dream sequence, Joe talks directly to his “imaginary audience” while revealing the reality of his work and life. From hair-flipping queen to high-vis refuse loader, this is a play that is easy to connect with, thoughtfully written, and performed with affable ease.

Leather has so much charisma and stage presence that you could legitimately enjoy watching him read (or sing) the phone book. Wasteman, however, is anything but ordinary, managing to address homophobic hate-crime, mental health and self-acceptance without sacrificing a moment of comedy.

Joe Leather in Wasteman. Photo Credit: Corinne Cumming.

Encouraged by his old friend Tonya, our hero signs up for the “Miss Stoke” drag pageant, but has to overcome a number of personal demons before he can take to the stage. Living a double life – his colleagues assume he is straight, and his boyfriend wants his sequins consigned to one of his wheelie bins – he eventually finds the courage to confront his difficult past so that he can move forward.

Leather tells the story with both humour and sincerity, and although some of the transitions between scenes could be smoother, the witty asides he throws out are worth a bit of rough. The songs are catchy and fun, but sometimes could do with more volume.

Joe Leather in Wasteman. Photo Credit: Corinne Cumming.

This is not the usual working class story you see staged, which is what makes it even more relevant and necessary. The theme and mantra of the play is “one man’s treasure is another man’s trash”, and it is abundantly clear that Leather used his time working with rubbish to create this absolute gem of a piece.

By Deborah Klayman

Wasteman plays at Assembly George Square Studios, Edinburgh until 28th August 2023.

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