Any football fan that attends matches regularly has no doubt had the misfortune of sitting through 90 minutes of dire football from time to time. Maybe they spent it wondering how they’ll ever get that time back or whether they locked the back door but the 90 minutes on display in Sarah DeLappe’s powerful debut The Wolves were some of the most entertaining and engrossing I’ve seen for some time.
a badass Ballon d’Or of authentic bravery
In this instance the well-worn adage "it’s only a game" is deliciously subverted and sent to the stands. This is life, in microcosm maybe but life nonetheless because for the teenagers it trains its focus on everything is larger than life.
When you throw sport into the mix, the combination of competition and an intense pressure to win can drive teenagers to dizzy new heights or gut punching lows.
Following hot on the heels of Clare Barron’s Dance Nation, The Wolves feels like a beautiful flip of the same coin, another smart and sensitively observed look at the lives of young women learning self knowledge without the crucial component of the real life experience that earns it. At one point a girl utters that self-knowledge is a waste of time because there’s so much else to learn. It’s a powerful mic drop of a moment, amongst many others that dip and swerve with the ferocity of an expert set piece delivery. Serving as a reminder of the highs and lows associated with growing up and the pressures of being a teenage girl today the play is a badass Ballon d’Or of authentic bravery.
a collaboration of crafts in the best possible way
So with all the football analogy flying around here’s my 6 a side of ace things I liked.
- The cast is uniformly excellent. Shrewdly referred to by their squad numbers and not names. As their personalities come to the surface the traits of each character are deftly juxtaposed with the idea of them being a whole and not individuals, eventually bringing something crucial to the story, events and the team.
- Ellen McDougall’s direction is an expert lesson in less is more with each scene taking the form of a pre match warm up or post match “moment”. As the action unfolds with crafty conversation and often overlapping dialogue it feels genuine, filled with wit and smart observations. This feels like .
- The design by Rosie Elnile is particularly striking and satisfying. There is an aesthetic appeal to the three large inflatable “walls” that create an almost infinity like setting and the lighting design by Joshua Pharo is bold and brilliant, especially between the scenes when the cast are silhouetted like pop queens arriving on stage.
- The ethical and moral dilemmas vary but two storyline arcs about the pressure of having sex and confronting sexuality felt all too real, particularly in the age of hyper aggressive sexualized imagery. The former contains a particularly heartbreaking confrontation as it depicts the destruction of a friendship that is both toxic and tender.
- The comedy. There is plenty to laugh at, so much in fact, especially for a football fan or anyone familiar with having played the game competitively. I could relate to plenty of the tactical talk and found myself reminiscing over the weird, wonderful ways in which comedy was used to alleviate anxiety and awkwardness before a big game. This is the kind of “locker room talk” that is ok and exciting to be privy to.
- It reminded me of one of the most beautiful and underrated TV series ever, Friday Night Lights. This is a very good thing. If you haven’t watched it, you should, like now…
The praise heaped on this play is deserved. It’s pitch perfect. There isn’t much like it out there right now and in finding something new to say about football as well as the female experience it has deservedly gone home with the match ball.
NEED TO KNOW: The Wolves is at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 17 November 2018 | Book tickets