The Wolves – The Power of The Now over meaningful memory. (Theatre Review)
Belvoir with Red Line Productions
2 February – 3 March You can grab your tickets here.
Images: Brett Boardman
Sarah DeLappe’s extraordinary play The Wolves follows the Victorian Bildungsroman tropes with an essential and important difference. The Wolves gives us an opportunity to see a female realism at play over the top of the presumption of historical narratives which suppose the youth develops into an adult via The Event, engagement with memory and an attempt to make meaning of something. The hero in the final stage of mature formation of consciousness and the physical entering upon maturity attempts to return to the past and establish as mythic circle between present moment and the moment which has sparked off the moments of a temporal and spatial reality. For Sarah DeLappe the teenagers experience, meaning and life collapse into an overwhelming Real that evoke poignant connections in the moment. The Bildungsroman sees the hero as a kind of star of his own production, divesting meaning, attaching poignancy to each of his and his side characters movements. Pip in Great Expectations is a good example. The book is couched in memory. For Sarah DeLappe, an essential part of the feminine voice is lost in this configuration and a more Real indicator of the female experience is the chaos of The Now framed in a fast paced, dramatic Real that more accurately evokes the female position. Women are fluid, changing. Not the star of a stagnant production. One senses the girls will never return to the indoor soccer field searching for answers as a man might. Their wisdom is in The Now. When they leave The Now, they carry the experience, their friends and the enormity of life on momentous trajectory.
The Wolves then confounds audiences with its presentation of something we all know and recognize. It becomes one of those experiences where language is given to a moment that subsequently changes what we see. Sarah DeLappe simply explains it as “We’re on their turf. They’re not on ours.” We are allowed to see them separate from an essentialist understanding of womanhood and how the feminine woman is to behave and speak. Essentially, we see these young women engaging in a Lacanian version of Jouissance; that is the pleasure of transgressing the Law (patriarchal) within the critical-existential situation of femininity for which there is no given exit. To play indoor soccer as war heroes (a Sarah DeLappe description that fits perfectly) defies what it is to be female, but equally it conforms to what we expect of a modern girl. The girls live in the tension forged by a refusal of clarity around what it is to be female. Woman is still the ‘not man’ (although we are trying to change this) but the opportunity for careful reflection via the bildungsroman is neither afforded nor needed. Men can attach meaning to things. Woman is left to relate. Or, as Sarah DeLappe proposes, Woman relates to all things at once. Man is behind action, trying to understand through meaning.
This production of The Wolves is a stand out for Belvoir. The same but for a few changes as the production from Red Line Productions in 2018, the play benefits from its larger stage in 2019. Director Jessica Arthur does a remarkably good job, as do her cast, giving rise to the suspicion that all these women sense the significance of Sarah DeLappe’s words, as all very clearly have the lived experience in their histories. She pulls powerful performances from each of the nine women on the stage such that, just as no one teenagers story stands out, so each performance blends seamlessly into the strength of the others. The complex folding of language works well, never confusing nor losing the audience.
The Wolves gains much of its strength from Maya Keyes set that naturally plonks the audience on the bleachers. As Sarah DeLappe states in her notes “the teenagers exist, quite literally, in a bubble.” It is Maya Keyes beautifully formed set and costume design that properly evokes this, drawing the entire Belvoir upstairs theatre into the indoor soccer experience. It’s thrilling to see a crossover between watching sport and watching theatre, as it plays with exciting ideas about society, witnessing and connectivity through identification with performance. However, it’s rarely properly evoked. Here we are given a flawless example of the phenomena and a fresh way to look at society’s identification with witnessing sport.
Support in the powerhouse evocation of mood via set and costume come from Veronique Benett’s lighting design and Clemence Williams sound and composition. Equally Mandela Mathia’s skill coaching and the cast’s quick adaptation, call forth the right mood exacted from attention to detail that contribute to the whole that Jessica Arthur’s vision.
The Wolves is a potent exciting production that you will not soon forget. While it may not be the writer or director’s intent to evoke feminist principles there are some like myself thrilled by important feminist questions discussed in exiting new ways via this production. For those who don’t care for the F-word, there is plenty to be had via observing how female humans move around the world, the ethics around which they form attachments and the profound joy only the eternal rebel (and who is woman if not the always already rebel?) can experience moving through the world. The Wolves brings a little of this mystery to the Belvoir stage in all its glory and is therefore not a production to miss.