“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.
“an ambitious project … nicely done, with simple choreography and unified breath”
10 is an ambitious project for an hour long play; to distill the lives of ten women from history. Luckily, Lizzie Milton’s script lives up to the challenge well. When the audience enter the five women, who will take on two roles each, are standing around the space, statuesque in long dark blue dresses. The beginning and the transitions are nicely done, with simple choreography and unified breath. Director Nastazja Somers has created a strong framework on which to base the strands of the women’s stories and the music, sound and lighting, by Nicola Chang and Rajiv Pattani, support and complement the action beautifully. The casting is largely race and age blind, and it works really well.
Pamela Jikiemi took on the contrasting roles of Aethelflaed and Mary Prince. As Aethelflaed, the earliest recorded female ruler in Britain, she was impressive; portraying pride in achievement, and the shock of not being remembered. As Mary Prince, a woman who escaped slavery and terrible ill treatment to become only the second black woman to have her autobiography published, she was magnificent. Mary’s strength and anger, her suffering, and her pride shone through, and her sorrow when she thought of her husband was genuinely moving.
Rebecca Crankshaw was Brenda Proctor and Ada Lovelace. Proctor played a central, but largely undocumented, role in the miner’s strike, leading twenty-three thousand women on a march from Staffordshire to London. This piece was the least successful, not really conveying Proctor’s strength. There was so much concentration on her warm offerings of tea and cake that her activism rather got lost. Crankshaw gave a strong performance as Ada Lovelace, although I found her declarations, such as ‘I’m bloody brilliant, aren’t I!” rather jarring. There was no sense of her as a woman of her time.
Lydia Bakelmun played Princess Caraboo and Noor Inayat Khan, bringing warmth and charm to both roles. Princess Caraboo was a young woman from Devon who managed to convince people both in the UK and the USA that she was a princess from a faraway land. When her deception was discovered she settled in Bristol and sold leeches to the Infirmary. Bakelmun’s Caraboo was flirtatious and appealing, sure of her beauty and delightful. In the very different role of Noor Inayat Khan she gave us a portrayal of a brave and very human heroine. Khan was of Indian and American descent, and was in the Special Forces during WW11. She gave the audience a dilemma. Would you kill a nazi to save the lives of innocent people? Could you do it? Khan’s courage, arrest and execution, her final cry of ‘liberte’ were beautifully portrayed.
Beth Eyre’s first role was the Welsh artist Gwen John. John was recognised for her portraits of women, although she was overshadowed by her more famous brother, Augustus. Eyre’s Gwen was full of self doubt, imbued with a sense of faith, yet anxious about an upcoming exhibition. Her second role was that of Joan Clarke, who worked at Bletchley Park decoding the Enigma machine. Remembered now for her brief engagement to Alan Turing, Clarke was a gifted mathematician who made an important contribution the the war effort. Eyre showed her as a careful, deep thinking woman, concerned to make a word where everyone would be equally valued and welcome. Don’t try to knock the wall down, create a way through – a door maybe, she said.
Naomi Knox gave us Mary Seacole and Constance Markievicz, two very different women, both brought beautifully to life. Seacole was British-Jamaican woman who went to nurse in the Crimea, going there at her own expense. Knox showed her as a strong, woman, fulfilled by her work and her care for the patients. Then as a person lost, having to return home after doing so much. The warm strength of Mary Seacole was sharply contrasted by the harder strength of Constance Markievicz, a political revolutionary who fought for Ireland’s freedom from Britain. Knox was fierce, deadly determined, ready to shoot, but showing, too, Markievicz’s isolation in prison and her belief in a better world.
The play’s ten women, some better known than others, each made their own unique contributions. As an audience, enjoying the performances, we also learned about these extraordinary people and their lives, without ever feeling that we were being taught.