The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Jack Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 15th December 2017
“a romping yarn with a wicked sense of humour”
I’m sure somewhere in my childhood I either read the Wolves of Willoughby Chase or it was on tv. I know I was a total coward as a child, I watched Daleks from behind the sofa and refused point blank to see anything with ‘ghost’ in the title. When I was eight, some long forgotten kids thriller (certificate PG) gave me nightmares for weeks and vaguely traumatised me for life, so I was a little concerned this story may well have been it, so I decided not to investigate further and to just go and watch this production with no real idea what tale would unfold (gulp).
It set a very atmospheric scene from the start with mist swirling around frosted oak trees, and the silhouette of buildings looming from the small and well used space (designed by Karl Swinyard) while the distant hint of howling hummed, and sinister dark figures emerged …
The young heroine Bonnie (played with gusto by Rebecca Rayne), is loved, indulged and blissfully unaware of her fate when her parents leave their estate, and her, in the dastardly hands of new governess Miss Slighcarp (villinously played by Adam Elliott). Quickly joined by her treacherous companion Mr Grimshaw (played by Bryan Pilkington) Bonnie’s life is thoroughly dismantled by the greedy pair.
Her poor, frail cousin (played with perfect decreasing wimpishness by Julia Pagett) becomes her companion, with local Simon (played by Andrew Hollingworth) their nearest friend in the remote woods that surround the house and shelter the howling wolves. But the children battle to save home and family, forced to take on a quest with courage and determination, with only a handful of allies – and geese – along the way.
The plot comes from a wonderful 1960s adventure story for boys & girls from a novel by Joan Aiken, but set over 100 years earlier, and has been adapted gloriously by Russ Tunney into a romping yarn with a wicked sense of humour. The pace is amazingly fast as you race through the tale, each classic plot twist embraced, loved and delivered with a raised eyebrow, a flounce, or an outrageous grimace.
Although the two ‘girls’ are a constant in the story, the rest of the roles are played by Adam Elliott, Andrew Hollingworth and Bryan Pilkington via quick change, off-stage voices and sheer physicality of acting. There is a tangible sense of the build up to the final show down, and the inevitable meeting of many of the characters (played by the same actor) making the urgency and humour delight the audience. I loved the way characters excused themselves to return as someone else, it didn’t detract from the story at all and filled the theatre with laughter.
With a few songs thrown in for good measure, an utter obsession with cheese, and a brilliant performance from the whole cast this is a fantastically feel-good, festive production. Oh and the laughs are ‘Simply Ridiculous’!
Reviewed by Joanna Hinson
Photography by Tim Stubbs Hughes
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
is at Jack Studio Theatre until 6th January 2018