Last year, Red Line Productions presented The Wolves, Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated debut play. Directed by Sydney Theatre Company’s recently-appointed Resident Director, Jessica Arthur, the production spent a month in the 65-seat Old Fitz Theatre. Arthur’s staging of The Wolves has now been revived and re-scaled for a season at Belvoir’s 300-seat Upstairs Theatre.
Set in Middle America, The Wolves focuses on the nine members of a highly competitive high school girls’ indoor soccer team. Over 85 minutes, we watch the players warming up for a series of games; we hear their pre-match conversations – canvassing a wide range of subjects from relationships to war to abortion to their futures – and become privy to some of the individual challenges with which they’re struggling. To use DeLappe’s own words, we see them “on their turf”, expressing what they think about the world around them and navigating the difficulties associated with growing up.
In its premiere season at the Old Fitz, this was highly entertaining and insightful theatre, but in its Belvoir encore, it’s a more impressive and polished production that better showcases DeLappe’s wonderful writing. The ensemble (made up largely of the same cast members as last year) is stronger and tighter, with each performer seizing their opportunity to give glimpses into their individual character and her viewpoint. Each character is identified to us only by number. Among them, there’s #25 (Brenna Harding), the captain of the team with discernible leadership qualities; there’s #8 (Sofia Nolan), who is seemingly innocent and naïve; there’s #7 (Cece Peters), a rebellious teen whose already been confronted by a life-altering event; and there’s #46 (Nikita Waldron), a talented player who’s new in town and must overcome some awkwardness in order to fit in with her new peers.
Each character feels more lived in now, and the believability of the cast as a team has heightened. There’s more fancy footwork (thanks to soccer coach Mandela Mathia) and every cast member seems just as comfortable with a soccer ball as they do in the delivery of the dialogue. Arthur’s cast effectively utilises the larger Upstairs Theatre stage, and while side conversations and interactions are written into the script, her direction ensures our focus is never other than where it should be.
Maya Keys’ simple set, consisting of a synthetic turf floor and nets that physically separate the audience from the players, also translates well on this stage. It serves the practical function of protecting audience members from flying soccer balls, but it’s also a constant reminder that the young women we’re watching are cocooned from us – the wider community – and it’s through a narrow lens that they attempt to make sense of the outside world. That helps to bring home the enormity of the situation they face when an awful tragedy eventually rocks the team. The particular moment when we’re given a sense that something catastrophic has occurred (it’s only implied) is powerfully underscored by a track from composer and sound designer Clemence Williams.
Again, this is an excellent cast (consisting of Harding, Nolan, Peters, Waldron, Emma Harvie, Chika Ikogwe, Renee Lim, Sarah Meacham, Michelle Ny and Nadia Zwecker). Individually and as a team, they make us feel invested in ‘The Wolves’ and the familiar predicaments in which they find themselves. Arthur’s production not only calls for these voices to be considered, but recognises the resiliency of youth and the sizeable contributions young people ultimately can – and do – make to the world.
To read Theatre People’s review of the premiere season of The Wolves at the Old Fitz Theatre, click here.
THE WOLVES – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 3 March, 2019
Venue: Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir (25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills)
Tickets: belvoir.com.au or by phone on 02 9699 3444