The Wolves

Theatre Royal, Stratford East, London ****

Review by Carole Woddis of perf seen Oct 30, 2018:

© Manuel Harlan, cast of The Wolves in full flow...

© Manuel Harlan, cast of The Wolves in full flow…

I didn’t see Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Lee Hall’s runaway success from Alan Warner’s novel that hoovered up a shelf-load of awards last year. Featuring a group of sixth form convent school girls on their way to a choir competition in Edinburgh, it delighted and astounded – and possibly offended a few because of its liberal approach to swearing.

Sarah DeLappe’s American equivalent, The Wolves, equally trailing clouds of glowing reviews has now arrived from the US at Joan Littlewood’s old haunt, Stratford East’s Theatre Royal, currently in the hands of Nadia Fall. I’d be surprised if it undergoes quite the same blood and thunder response.

There’s very little in DeLappe’s punchy debut play to offend, though much to delight in her American account of another group of teenage girls, this time soccer players.

As with Our Ladies, not a lot happens. It’s a tale of banter, relationships, the pangs of growing up with an attempt to try to understand a bigger world outside. References to Cambodia, Vietnam, Abu Ghraib litter their conversation – in slightly unlikely fashion it has to be said as if De Lappe felt she should throw in some contemporary political references to show America’s perspective on the world is still trying to be a little further than the garden fence.

But unlike the Scottish all-girls-together account, there are no songs. What gives The Wolves its edge and will make it, I’m sure, a winner with a certain age group, is Ellen McDougall’s production and the performances by all nine performers.

McDougall, now AD at Notting Hill Gate, has a rare gift with actors. Her production of The Rolling Stone (Orange Tree, 2016) and Henry the Fifth (Unicorn) were both marked by clarity and a pungent sense of dramatic tension.

© Manuel Harlan, cast of The Wolves with Lauren Grace (front)  who takes a tumble...

© Manuel Harlan, cast of The Wolves with Lauren Grace (front) who takes a tumble…

So it is here. McDougall keeps the team in an almost constant state of limbering up. You just marvel at the cast’s athleticism and cheer to see young women portrayed as every bit as athletic as – usually – their male counterparts which often gets highlighted as soldiers preparing for battle.

Interestingly, DeLappe has written that when she wrote The Wolves, she thought of it `as a war movie.’ And so the adrenalin – the competitive and also the team spirit – pumps through the show’s 90 minutes as each player spars and competes and ultimately supports each other.

Lights flash at the side of designer Rosie Elnile’s spongey green walls to divide each quarter and at certain points, McDougall bathes the stage in ghostly reds and greys – an indicator, had we known, of what is to come.

I loved the way various individuals gradually came into focus – each one known only by a number on the back of their sports shirts – Rosie Sheehy as a red haired motor-mouth, Seraphina Beh as the nerve-wracked, biliously inclined goalkeeper, Annabel Baldwin as the outsider who finally outshines them all with her twinkling feet, Nina Bowers, Lauren Grace, Francesca Henry, Shalisha James-Davis, Rosabell Laurenti Sellers and Hannah Jarrett-Scott as the bullish `let’s go team, let’s win’, captain.

© Manuel Harlan, Annabel Baldwin - #46 and the outsider with magic in her feet...

© Manuel Harlan, Annabel Baldwin – #46 and the outsider with magic in her feet…

Kristin Hutchinson also provides a touching coda as the grieving mum who can’t quite the words to tell the team what her daughter and the team meant to her.

But I’d be lying if I said I got as much out of it as I would have liked – partly to do with the accents and partly to do simply with latching onto the pitch and sound of the American culture DeLappe is describing.

But what is great is that with women’s soccer on the increase here – apparently girls soccer is BIG in the US, particularly on the college circuit – The Wolves will surely resonate with a whole new audience and generation at a time Nadia Fall, still fresh into her time at the Theatre Royal, must be keen to build up a new following.

As a tale of rites of passage, it may not be remarkable. But McDougall and the cast make it a highlight of this autumn and perhaps a first in terms of girls, sport and how they’re portrayed on stage. Hooray for that.

© Manuel Harlan, Francesca Henry (front), Shalisha James-Davis and Seraphina Beh, limbering up...

© Manuel Harlan, Francesca Henry (front), Shalisha James-Davis and Seraphina Beh, limbering up…

The Wolves
By Sarah DeLappe

#46: Annabel Baldwin
#00: Seraphina Beh
#11: Nina Bowers
#7: Lauren Grace
#2: Francesca Henry
Soccer Mom: Kristin Hutchinson
#6: Shalisha James-Davis
#25: Hannah Jarrett-Scott
#14: Rosabell Laurenti Sellars
#13: Rosie Sheehy

Director: Ellen McDougall
Designer: Rosie Elnile
Lighting Designer: Joshua Pharo
Movement Director: Ayse Tashkiran
Music and Sound: Ben and Max Ringham
Associate Designer: Natalie Pryce
Dialect & Voice: Michaela Kennen
Casting Director: Lotte Hines
Assistant Director: Jasmine Teo
Costume Supervisor: Justin Allin

British premiere of this production of The Wolves at Theatre Royal, Stratford East, Oct 24, 2018. Runs to Nov 17, 2018.

Review published on this site, Nov 1, 2018.