George Zacharopoulos is a romantic soul. He believes in love – he loves love, and he has a boyish, slightly giddy air about him that makes this statement ring completely true. His empathetic and vivid hour of storytelling stand-up, ‘Wonderland’, is a show about how this self-professedly nerdy Greek émigré found love. The tail of this tale carries a sting which puts it in a thematic bracket with countless hours at this Fringe, but it’s a very well-structured hour with a universal message of self-love and resilience.
‘Wonderland’ has the genial adopted Geordie regale us with the story of how he met Alice (hence the title), with whom he quickly falls in love. Alice has dealt with her share of trauma, but has come through it all and has forged a career for herself as a doctor. George is smitten with her, and she with him. She is a honey badger, he says – one of many callbacks to an opening monologue that seems random at first but is a series of thematic clues, Keyser Söze-style, of what’s to come – tough, persistent, and fierce.
Zacharopoulos spins his tale with a sweet-hearted earnestness that is compelling and endearing, with his Greek accent – still intact despite two decades in Newcastle – giving his narrative a slightly unusual cadence and rhythm. Because of this he has a distinctive and very pleasant style, that he embellishes with a punchy little chuckle he allows himself when he’s said something particularly amusing.
The sparsity of the crowd is occasionally telling as George naturally pauses for effect after each revelation, to be met with either silence, or with certain civic-minded members picking up the slack with noticeable emphasis. Not that is hamstrings the tale at all – and the comic is effusive in his gratitude at the end of his show – but it does detract slightly from the dynamism of his otherwise excellently-structured and performed narrative.
‘Wonderland’ takes a while to build momentum, with Zacharopoulos sacrificing instant gratification in favour of sewing a crop of metaphorical seeds to be reaped later on. But as soon as the central romance takes shape it blooms into a fascinating story. A passionate storyteller with a willingness to appear vulnerable and a strong desire that his experiences prove helpful to others, George Zacharopoulos deserves a bigger audience than he’s received this evening.
‘Wonderland’ runs until Mon 28 Aug 2023 at Pleasance Dome – 10Dome at 20:30