Wolfie (Some sort of Fairytale)

Ross Willis
Tron Theatre Company
Tron Theatre

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Leah Byrne as Z Credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Anna Russell-Martin as A and Leah Byrne as Z Credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Leah Byrne as Z (background) and Anna Russell-Martin as A Credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

At its heart, Wolfie is a scary thing. Subtitled as some form of fairytale, this is certainly what it is—some sort of one. Its premise is far from simple.

At a future time, children will be brought up in a care system where one is to be placed with a soggy woman in a bath, the other with a wolf. Working as an extended metaphor for today, it imagines a tomorrow where the care system has fallen apart. The allegory is clear: it already has failed.

We begin with A, played by Leah Byrne, and Z, played by Anna Russell-Martin, in the womb with their competitive Sharkey twin banter before their birth. They are then taken together by the Boneyman to the soggy woman in the bath, but the soggy woman in the bath feels unable to cope with both: one is therefore to be sent into the woods a la Snow White with the Boneyman instructed to kill her. The connections to fairytales of yore are clear.

From there, we follow the two twins as they grow from birth to age 26—the age at which the care system sees our young people as adults and now ready for independence. If the scenario of the woods is reminiscent of one fairytale, given they are products of a care system, I can confirm that neither of twins grows up to be Snow White. Abandoned, traumatised and angry, they have to find their way, until one day, across a butcher’s counter at Waitrose, they see each other again—whether they find each other is left without resolution.

Both Willis and Wolfie have gathered sufficient praise and awards that there is little doubt that this is a searing invective delivered at an ironically named system that seeks to care, but for which many could not care less, about the young people it is designed to support. It captures, poignantly and lyrically, the devastation and the spurned hope of each young person left to fend with temporary connections and diminishing expectations. I know. I also work in the care sector.

But, if the script has delivered, it needs to be used as a platform to deliver the message. The creative approach by director Joanna Bowman manages to do just that. It's paced well with lightness and darkness provided through carefully crafted interactions between the characters. The staging, in-the-round, is a well utilised and effective way of drawing us in: refusing to allow us to escape the agony of each betrayal and disappointment. It allows for the interaction with the characters who have broken the fourth wall to elicit our sympathy—or just take the mickey out of us with our judgy eyes. Where it worked less well was with some props and the multi-coloured packaging which appeared to be a really good idea that lost its focus once it was spilled all over the floor.

Lighting and the soundscape are excellent, whilst the greatest triumph comes because of our two actors. Playing all the parts, Byrne and Russell-Martin manage to nuance and scream how traumatised children and young people tear their houses down. The first act, serving as a clever set-up, establishes many of the themes which lead to a triumphant second half. Aside from their development of the Sharkey twins, the Boneyman and the mannequin boyfriend are exceptional, as is the relationship between Strontium and Francium. When Francium, now a mother of twins, goes out in search of new things, she finds a familiar face behind a counter.

It was then the actors asked each other if we could start again. As a final message, its poignancy was not lost, simply because the set-up was so beautifully poised.

Reviewer: Donald C Stewart

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