The Wolf Tattoo

Lucy Gough
Company of Sirens
Seligman Studio, Chapter, Cardiff

Gwidion Rhys and Saran Morgan Credit: Company of Sirens
Gwidion Rhys and John Rowley Credit: Company of Sirens
Non Haf Credit: Company of Sirens

With The Wolf Tattoo, Company of Sirens ventures into territory it, under director Chris Durnall, has previously visited with Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur and Jennifer Haley’s The Nether—a dystopian future.

The seating in the Seligman Studio is laid out in traverse, and the central playing space is carpeted with charcoal chippings. Abandoned tyres and broken cellphones are artfully arranged on it as are, as we enter, the majority of the cast. Presently, they rise and begin thrashing about to Queens Of The Stone Age’s hymn to druggy abandon, “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer”.

Despite this being a recurring aural motif, however, it quickly becomes clear that Lucy Gough’s play focuses on more natural highs—love and violence. The wolfskins scattered amongst the detritus (costume design by Llinos Griffiths) indicate that we are in some kind of urban wilderness.

Gwidion Rhys’s Graf and Jarred Ellis Thomas’s Shenks are feral youths who run with a murderously vicious gang who either are or imagine themselves to be werewolves of some kind. Graf, however, has a loving girlfriend, Rose—Saran Morgan—who informs him that she is pregnant, and that his commitment to her should entail leaving the gang.

The cast is rounded out by Non Haf as Ash, Rose’s cynical but understanding friend, and John Rowley as Snakeskin, the tattooist to whom Graf turns in order to get Rose’s name inked on him as a sign of devotion. Snakeskin is the sole representative here of the older generation, whose actions have led to the world falling apart.

The action revolves around the fate of Graf’s wolf-pelt, his badge of acceptance into the gang. When Rose finally loses patience with what it represents, she takes action which endangers them both.

While the nightmarish, futuristic tone is palpable, courtesy of the drone-inflected soundtrack and Jacob Gough’s moody lighting design, the true theme of the play seems to be an eternal one—the complexity of adult relationships.

It seems logical to assume that it was Graf’s wildness which first attracted Rose to him. Now that she seeks stability, however, she needs him to become less wild. Their failure to reach an accommodation makes tragedy almost inevitable.

Gough’s text deftly shifts between the naturalistic and the surreal—the universe she creates encompasses not only lupine youths tearing people apart in forests, but also supermarkets and mobile phone signals. The performers are reliably skilful, but seem at their best when dealing with the realities of love, grief and world-weariness.

There are a few elements which don’t work as well as they might: perhaps a choreographer could have enhanced some of the more animalistic moments; and a “quest” strand seems to fall a little flat in the small performance space.

Nevertheless, The Wolf Tattoo is an intriguing and inventive take on “the pack mentality” and the difficulty of leaving childish things behind.

Reviewer: Othniel Smith

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