Theatre Royal Stratford East
Plays centred around sports are relatively rare. In part, that is because the kind of action that would surround them on film can never be satisfactorily depicted on stage.
Unsurprisingly, in the past the best from both sides of the Atlantic such as David Storey’s The Changing Room (surely due a revival soon) and Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out viewed the antics of men behaving badly.
In depicting women footballers, Sarah DeLappe's off-Broadway hit is therefore refreshingly different, having few obvious comparators except Bend It Like Beckham. Even then, the two have little in common.
The Wolves follows the fortunes of an indoor soccer team of 17-year-olds each of whose players dreams of attaining a college scholarship, with the potential for fame and fortune to follow.
For the first half of the symbolically important 90 minutes, the banter is pedestrian, rather like that of a team of football jocks. However, there is a greater degree of innocence if not ignorance as these young women talk big and readily give offence, usually unwittingly.
The group is inevitably built around a series of stereotypes. Inter alia, there are the forceful captain, the religious type, the outsider, the immigrant and the pretty one who has a casual attitude to sex that distinguishes her from each of the others.
As we follow a series of warm-up sessions prior to increasingly important matches, attention shifts around with 25, the captain played by Hannah Jarrett-Scott, sharing the limelight with the unlikely star, Annabel Baldwin showing nifty footwork as 46, Lauren Grace taking the role of sex-crazed 7 and Francesca Henry playing 2, the religious one.
Oddly, the strong silent goalie 00, who throws up before every game, is entrancing often without uttering a word, which is a big compliment to actress Seraphina Bey as well as the team's coach (or, to use theatrical parlance, director) Ellen MacDougall.
The long series of conversations between teen girls that set the scene can be wearing and, by a half time whistle that never comes, some may be wondering why this play, receiving its European première, has received so many plaudits.
The answer to that question becomes apparent after pathos strikes, forcing what had seemed like a shallow bunch into some deeper philosophical thoughts and interactions, every one of them almost literally maturing before our eyes.
The Wolves is by no means a perfect play but it entertains and, thanks to the efforts of a strong British cast, will attract the kind of younger audience that new Artistic Director Nadia Fall must see as her mission in what looks to be an exciting opening season at Stratford East.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher