Theatre503, 10th April 2019
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Ross Willis is a double espresso with extra shot man. How else to explain the blast of wild energy that is his debut play Wolfie. For sure it is hard to imagine two more vibrant actors than Erin Doherty and Sophie Melville, collectively the “future of British acting”, but even these fearsome talents need something special to get their teeth into. It was by no means perfect but there is an invention and a verve in the telling of this story which made it stand out.
Two sisters, Z and A, whose Mum is unable to cope, are separated at birth and cast into the UK care system. But this is no gritty documentary-drama. First off the story begins in the womb. Z’s foster Mum, Soggy Woman, never leaves the bath. A is brought up by a wolf after her Dad, Bony Man, leaves her for dead in the wood. Trees talk. Woodpecker social workers offer up brutal homilies. Chemistry teachers become parents in absentia. Charity workers donate slices of their kidneys. Mothers snort milk teeth. Waitrose opens and gives A an opportunity in butchery. There is a Jack Whitehall-esque, silver, mansplaining torso. And more. Much more.
It’s a Grimm, though not grim, fairytale, with plain nods to the likes of Angela Carter and Jose Saramango, as well as, minus the theory, Ionesco. However there is a blunt contemporary edge, think Mighty Boosh, even in the more surreal dialogue. The story moves at a hell of a lick, sometimes only becoming clear where we are, and when we are, at birth, aged 13 and 26, in retrospect. It is very funny and, in the hands of exciting young designer Basia Binkowska, lighting from Rajiv Pattani, sound from Richard Hammerton and movement direction by Belinda Lee Chapman, impressive in the way it transforms the tiny 503 space.
Maybe the message gets a little lost in all this metaphor, contrivance and stagecraft, I would have preferred 80-90 minutes straight through, and sometimes it comes close to spirally out of control, but this entertainment is very easy to forgive. Especially, as I say, with these two actors on stage. Sophie Melville and, most especially, Erin Doherty as lead character Soween, were by some margin the best things to emerge from Alan Ayckbourn’s muddled The Divide at the Old Vic, even after it had been slimmed down. Sophie Melville was simply breathtaking as Effie in Gary Owen’s brilliant Iphigenia in Splott. And I have raved before about Erin Doherty (Junkyard, My Name is Rachel Corrie) and I fully expect the world to catch up when she appears in the next series of The Crown on Netflix.
This text and space is made for them. If acting is all about having no fear, even when asked to do the daftest of things, then these two are, no question, actors. They take something which, on the page at least, must have looked pretty daunting and turn it into something utterly tangible. Director Lisa Spirling seems gifted with the same magic dust, or sparkles as Z and A would have it, having brought Rajiv Joseph’s equally ambitious Describe the Night to life at the Hampstead Theatre last year.