Wolf Cub at Hampstead Theatre
Set during the turbulent 80s and early 90s in the USA, Wolf Cub is an ambitious play that attempts to tackle many historical issues from the perspective of a poor southern girl, Maxine (Clare Latham). The one-hander thereby weaves a tapestry of current events at the time, whether she is directly involved or not. With some astonishing acting by Latham, and a couple of emotional highlights, it’s certainly enjoyable, but spreading itself a bit too thin means some of the topics only receive superficial coverage.
Growing up with an abusive father, clever, witty and attentive Maxine grows up to be a rather disturbed adult who is put through the mill at every stage of her life, resulting in her being involved in everything from drug dealing to the Contras, and finally in the 1992 Los Angeles Race riots due to the Rodney King incident. Yes, it’s a bit far-fetched, but the narrative is often tongue-in-cheek in a way that it can be forgiven; what holds the various threads together is the leitmotiv of a wolf cub, a spirit animal that supports her along the way as she envisions transforming into a wolf herself at various emotionally significant moments of her life.
Writer and director Ché Walker’s production is made enjoyable by an almost mythical forest-like setting, with music (by Sheila Atim) and subtle sound design (by John Leonard) that always conjures the right mood at the right moment. It’s all done very well, and Bethany Gupwell’s lighting design coupled with the mythical fog from the forest works wonders to shine an eerie light on Maxine’s unlikely development. It’s almost like she’s a spirit who has returned to haunt a 2022 audience with the events of the past.
At a runtime of merely 80 minutes, Wolf Cub certainly treads a lot of ground and one must admire the ambition. It’s just a pity that it’s too short to do the large subject matters justice, thereby demanding some more time for reflection and consideration. Within this limitation, however, it still remains a highly engaging play; the emotional moments do feel genuine and deserved, and as such, it’s certainly well worth a watch.
Images: Robert Day
Wolf Cub is at Hampstead Theatre from 8th April until 7th May 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.