The Wolves at the Theatre Royal Stratford East
These girls hunt as a pack. The game might be football – sorry, soccer – rather than survival or war, but the bond fostered in the heat of AstroTurf-ed conflict is that of wolves and warriors.
In the green glow of Rosie Elnile’s indoor arena, the team warms up, bickering and biting, joking and jibing. This becomes the repeat setting for a series of pre-match rituals, oodles of awkwardness and a pretty sharp look at the shifting hierarchies (and constant support) of a group of title-chasing teenage girls.
Her cast nameless but numbered, Sarah DeLappe manages to pull off a balance between purposeful anonymity – allowing for a certain playfulness in regard to teen tropes – and a specific sense of character for each player. There’s the rich, popular, blonde mean girl; her put upon best-friend; the weirdo new-kid; the sarcastic motormouth; and a whole host of other types fleshed-out into people who try and shed the baggage of the real world when they step onto the pitch.
The movement, thanks to Ayse Tashkiran and director Ellen McDougall, is almost constant: passing drills, laps, butt kicks, stretches. It makes the moments of stillness, like the immobility of a crocked and be-crutched player, even more notable, becoming a form of visual ostracism.
If there is one major flaw with this production, it’s that McDougall and the cast haven’t quite yet nailed the overlapping music of DeLappe’s tough-but-tender comedy. There’re some bum notes in what should be a symphony, though hopefully the kind that can be ironed out and tightened up as the run continues.
It’s a shame because the stylised structure only adds to the organic feel of the dialogue. Random spurts of inane locker room chatter intermingle with the fervent discussion of personal rumours, with multiple instances of foot-in-mouth slip-ups and intentionally cruel attacks. Anxieties tentatively get aired and exploited, friendships form and fray. It’s almost like a nature documentary, these interactions captured away from the influence of their elders (and, crucially, the presence of men).
The Wolves perhaps also suffers due to its proximity to the similarly themed Dance Nation at the Almeida. But while DeLappe’s play can’t compare to the majesty of Clare Barron’s wild and witty drama on a scene by scene basis, the cumulative impact of the gradually revealed plot is an absolute knockout, ending with an adult puncturing of this teen world that sucks the air from the room.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Wolves is at the Theatre Royal Stratford East from 24th October until 17th November 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.