Maya Chavvakula reviews “Wolfie” by Ross Willis. Playing at Theater 503, until April 13.
**** (Four stars)
Ross Willis’ debut play at Theater503 makes a poignant statement about the state of childcare in the UK.
The story follows twin sisters who are separated because their mother could not afford to take care of them.
The play was inspired by Willis’ own experience with the care system. He said: “I wanted to write about being in care and being a care leaver and how when you leave care you haven’t got the skills you need to succeed as a human because you haven’t been loved in a conventional way.
“If you have been loved, then suddenly the care stops and how that affects your very core.”
Lead actors Erin Doherty and Sophie Melville perform the entire play, taking on various roles throughout.
It follows the two sisters, A and Z’s, journey from childhood through adulthood. Z is raised by a negligent parent and as a result forms a strong bond with her chemistry teacher Strontium.
Meanwhile, A is abandoned in the woods and adopted by a wolf.
The frantic progression of the play leaves one reeling and rarely gives the audience time to sink into any particular emotion.
The director, Lisa Spirling, is well known for her ability to be able to translate complex and often nuanced ideas to the stage.
She was integral to this production with her hands-on approach from staging to casting.
Spirling said: “We specifically were looking for actors who are natural comedians and can handle the depth and the intensity and the emotion of the material. They needed to be able to do that immediate shift from going to somewhere incredibly heavy to playing something quite surreal or absurd or over the top characterisations whilst at the same time being emotionally truthful.”
The actors are able to transition between characters and scenes with such impeccable discipline that rapid succession of scenes feels almost natural.
Willis attributes the fast pace of the play to his ADHD.
“It’s just the way I’m naturally wired – its really frantic. I just tend to get bored and move onto something else so I never like plays that stay in one place too long.”
Willis admits to consciously moving away from the tradition of long pauses and modulated speech of the theatre to create something.
Spirling does an exemplary job of translating that to the stage.
“We were conscious of making it as clear as possible and making sure that an audience would go with it and I think similarly some audiences get bored and they enjoy going from one to the next,” she said.
“In terms of stage directions, the fact that strontium, who is a very good friend of Z, has a red cardigan and the fact that Wolf Ma is wearing a fur coat, we do things to indicate where we are all the time whilst not over-explaining everything.”
In the play, there is also an element of class distinction and how it manifests itself in our society today.
Willis, although in an exaggerated manner, depicts the white saviour complex that is inhabited by ‘people of a certain class’ that think they can help and save the less fortunate but seldom listen to the person that needs help.
But he insists that out of all his work, Wolfie ‘is less savage against people from a certain class’.
The play is very interactive and throughout the performance the actors interact with the audience, bringing them into the story.
“When I got the commission, I tried to realise what this space can do things another theatre can’t,” he said.
“This theatre is really intimate so that’s perfect for audience interaction. Every single person can feel like they are a part of the performance.”
“I believe that as a society we are all responsible for kids in care and care leavers so I wanted people watching this play to feel responsible for the outcome of the story and feel emotionally involved and that is why there is a lot of audience participation.”
The witty dialogue in the play leaves the audience in stitches and the metaphorical representation of certain characters leaves a lot to the imagination. That creates a greater depth to the performance than it would have otherwise.
Venue: Theatre503, Above the Latchmere Pub, 503 Battersea Park Road
Dates + Times: 20 March to 13 April at 7.30pm; + 3 April at 12 noon; 30 Mar, 6, 10, 13 Apr at 3pm;
Tickets: £12 / £17 / £18 / £10 previews + Weds matinees / Pay What You Can Saturday matinees