Reviewed – 26th March 2019
“The poeticism and rhythmic word play from writer Ross Willis is spell-binding”
Talking trees, talking cabbage foetus, a yellow boulder for a mother, this isn’t your average story about the care system. Where the topic is more often than not touched upon with bleak pessimism, filled with only doom and gloom, Wolfie tells the tale of abandoned children with lively vibrancy that leaves you laughing and crying all in one go. The bold, imaginative creativity and, quite frankly, mad-hat ideas from the writing and direction (Lisa Spirling) blows your mind. Another wonderfully bonkers and surprising theatrical element is always around the corner. But this trippy spectacle never detracts from the story. So full of heart, this affectionate tale of two sisters is disparately painful and warming, proving the power of love.
This is about the Sharkey Twins. Together through birth, together through – no, that’s the wrong narrative. Life never takes you on your expected course. As these two sisters are suddenly separated, days old, will they ever be able to find each other again? As one is taken in by an unreceptive mother, the other discarded in the woods and brought up by the surrounding wildlife, their lives go down similar debilitating avenues in differing circumstances.
Yes, we hear about children raised in the wild by packs of animals, a la The Jungle Book, but in this production, there is a deep subtext running through where the woods personifies the care system. When you’re released from the wilderness of a care home, and forced into the real world, you’re not equipped with the right tools to be human, let alone an adult. Without blatantly pointing a finger, Wolfie reveals the flaws and general lack of support the care system offers with evocative subtlety.
Tour de force performances from Erin Doherty and Sophie Melville leave you in complete awe as they masterfully glide or jolt between the twenty-odd characters that together they assume with such precision. The poeticism and rhythmic word play from writer Ross Willis is spell-binding. It’s astonishing to think that this is his debut play! Certainly one to watch for the future as are Doherty and Melville.
It is a multi-sensory experience with bubbles, glitter galore, balloons, rave music and audience participation, effortlessly integrated into being integral to the story. I’m not one for being incorporated into the action, as an audience member, but Doherty and Melville do so in such a playful and inviting way that it feels a pleasure to be included in some small form.
An epic journey from inside the womb, through to the difficulties of adulthood, our human struggle and constant pursuit for love takes precedent in this production. The message to take away is that a life without love, or little of it, may affect our path forever. Never lose your sparkle. Wolfie certainly never does. It shines brightly as one of the best theatrical experiences so far this year.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Helen Murray
Theatre503 until 13th April
Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Old Vic
Reviewed – 9th February 2018
“Ayckbourn side-steps the familiarity of the bitter-sweet, domestic comedy and offers a futuristic, dystopian fantasy”
A century from now. Sarum, south of the Divide. Post-plague. In the aftermath of a fatal disease which has wiped out most of the male population and consequently blamed on women, the two sexes live geographically separated; men dress in pure white and women in sinful black; homosexual relationships are the norm and heterosexuality is prohibited. Alan Ayckbourn side-steps the familiarity of the bitter-sweet, domestic comedy and offers a futuristic, dystopian fantasy. Its reception by those expecting a new experimental play has to some extent ignored its history. It was conceived as a piece of prose which could also be performed as a narrative for voice, first presented in Scarborough (2015) as an innovative five-part, day-long reading, whereas this lavish and detailed production is an adaptation by Baylis Director at The Old Vic, Annabel Bolton.
The Divide is turned from prose to drama using an array of techniques. Laura Hopkins’ versatile, gauze-layered set uses platforms and sliding panels which give a sense of expanded space and is embellished with intricate projections, including hand-written manuscript, and imaginative and meticulous lighting (David Plater and Ash J Woodward). Immaculate Amish-inspired costumes are beautifully devised, adjusting from the initial monochrome as the story progresses and original music by Christopher Nightingale is performed onstage by musicians and choir, all building up a sense of grandeur and expectation. Yet the author’s intended lightness of the tone is signalled with humour from the start. Taken from diaries, letters and meeting minutes, the script is, by nature, wordy. However, in pursuit of theatricality, subtle touches such as the artful, upside-down shadows are easily overlooked and there are some awkward changes of timbre, for example, the candlelit community choir overlap uncomfortably with the down to earth style of the dialogue.
The fluidity and variety in the staging is much needed to hold the audience’s attention for this trim four-hour version and the inevitable wordiness of a production shaped from prose is remarkably performed, even if the characters are often defined by narrative rather than dialogue. Erin Doherty is outstanding as quirky Soween who, through her diary written from the age of nine, recounts the development of her own feelings and relationships and her part in the downfall of the Divide. Jake Davies’ Elihu, her brother, is excellent, portraying innocent perplexity at the workings of the world, and there are fine performances by Weruche Opia as Giella, who sparks the forbidden feelings, Thusitha Jayasundera as Mapa, patriarch of the family and Richard Katz who plays Elihu’s irredeemable tutor.
A dystopian society built on homosexual relationships is perhaps an unintentionally reactionary view, and the influence of Margaret Atwood is hard to deny. But in the end, for all its new ideas, futuristic genre and topical themes, The Divide has Ayckbourn’s hallmark charm and commentary on the misunderstandings and miscommunications between the genders, in a grandiose but watchable production.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Manuel Harlan