The Other Room Theatre, Cardiff
The 2020 Spring Fringe season of curated work at The Other Room is under way. It began a few weeks ago with a Welsh-language play from Criw Bwyd and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, and continues with two pieces created by and starring Lewis Doherty.
Wolf is the first part of Doherty's Beast trilogy of shows inspired by cult cinema. Sword-and-sorcery-style fantasy adventure Boar plays here later in the week; sci-fi-horror Hawk will première in London in March.
Wolf had a successful run on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018, and has toured intermittently in the interim. It takes as its model the kind of low-budget, C-grade pulpy detective movies which filled the shelves of video rental stores in the 1980s and occasionally turn up on lesser television stations in the middle of the night.
Set in Shadow City, somewhere in the USA, it is the tale of tough cop (or maybe ex-cop) Patrick Wolf, who finds himself investigating the mysterious, supposedly accidental death of his old friend Jay Walker, an even tougher cop. The fact that the story begins with Wolf interrupting a car journey to commit an act of extreme violence already tells us that his suspicions may be well-founded.
Doherty plays all the roles, his sole prop being a chair. Thus, as we follow Wolf on his journey through the mean streets, we encounter eccentric derelicts, drug-addled Hispanic gangsters, grizzled policemen, naive policemen, unfortunate innocent bystanders and, of course, the urbane crime boss. There's also the small matter of a cyborg ninja, but to say more would constitute a spoiler.
While Wolf is a solo performance, and a highly accomplished and amusing one (John Hoggarth is credited as dramaturg and consultant director), much of the work is done by Chazz Redhead's sound design, an hour-long movie in itself, comprising '80s music (both actual and invented) alongside urban pandemonium. Rebecca Wellburn's lighting design also plays wittily with generic convention; stage manager Elaine, apparently taking on the role for the first time on the night I attended, received a much-deserved round of applause for keeping on top of these elements.
Given the nature of the genre being celebrated, the focus is less on the plot (which is basic but kind of hangs together), than on assembling clichés—an indestructible hero, cheesy wisecracks, a ridiculously high body-count—and delivering them, which Doherty does with great skill, although some of the mimed actions come across as over-elaborate, and the occasional explicit references to the artificiality of the show's premise seem superfluous.
This show is possibly the epitome of a guilty pleasure, since it pays loving tribute to a body of work which is intentionally trashy. Unlike the bulk of films which inspired it, Wolf is cleverly assembled and highly entertaining.
Reviewer: Othniel Smith