Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 19 – Sep 13, 2014
Playwright: Hilary Bell
Director: Emma Louise
Cast: Maryellen George, Peter McAllum, Lucy Miller, David Woodland
Photograph © Bob Seary
We walk around with rose-tinted glasses everyday. The world can be a very ugly place if one chooses to see it only for its flaws, so we hold on to convenient lies in order that we may arrive at bedtime relatively unscathed. In Hilary Bell’s Wolf Lullaby, a veil is lifted off some hard truths and we are confronted with concepts of childhood innocence and familial sanctity that contradict the comforting notions we hold dear. Bell’s play is dark, disturbing and challenging. It is also full of mystery and dramatic tension, with interesting characters that tell an unusual, and sometimes horrific, story.
Director Emma Louise’s interpretation of Bell’s text is subtle and unpretentious, but the resulting production is a powerful one. Much of the abomination that happens, can only be seen through our own imagination. Heidi Brosnan’s lighting, and sound by Chelsea Reed and Alexander Tweedale, contribute immensely to an atmosphere of foreboding, and Allan Walpole’s set, while being a little too literal, contains elements that heighten the play’s supernatural qualities. A highlight of Louise’s work is the handling of ambiguities in the narrative. She does not force upon us a strong point of view about unfolding events, but leaves morsels of intrigue resonating for our own discovery and comprehension.
Half of the show’s four characters however, feel a little too indistinct. The portrayals of Warren and Sergeant Armstrong are realistic, but their personality transformations seem too sudden and we are left with a less than thorough understanding of their behaviour and motivations. Fortunately, the more dominant roles are delivered with greater detail. Lucy Miller plays Angela, the mother character in the piece. Her work is beautifully complex, and she creates a multiplicity that is responsible for the work’s depth and intellectual impact. Angela is unexpectedly fascinating, and Miller’s measured approach makes her the most disarming and enigmatic character on stage. Nine year-old Lizzie anchors the play in a realm of nightmares. Maryellen George is an adult but her performance as Lizzie is accurate, touching and eerie. Her mimicry of childlike gesturing is impressive, but it is the way she balances conflicting truths within her personal narrative that thrills and perplexes us with a perverse delight.
Stories about children are often predictable and unoriginal, but Wolf Lullaby is a rare beast. It is not light entertainment, but it is certainly an enthralling and eye-opening night at the theatre. It locates sacred beliefs and punctures them with an honesty that cannot be doubted. Our world is not a perfect place, but its dangers are amplified when we endow them with delusions. Art is often about fantasy, but its real worth is found in its depiction of the human condition. This is now a production that will lull us into sweet slumber, but its messages will keep our minds occupied for a few nights thereafter.