Though we don’t like to admit it, we humans are fascinated by the darkness within. Especially when it is within something – or someone – where darkness isn’t expected to reside. This intrigue probably explains Australian playwright Hilary Bell’s choice to write, and SA company Oily Rag Theatre’s choice to stage Wolf Lullaby as their first production.
Wolf Lullaby tells the story of 9-year-old Lizzie Gael who due to her quirky and at times naughty nature finds herself accused of murdering a local 3-year-old. What follows is the difficult quest for the truth by the adults in her life – her estranged mother and father who see their child in two different lights, and the local policeman who offers an objective perspective on the child in question. In the words of director Kristin Telfer, this story “is not a ‘whodunit?’ but a ‘whyhappen?’” It’s a heavy psychological thriller not due to mystery but due to the maddening need to understand how a child could harm another child.
This production was well acted by the cast. Adult actor Shannon Gray as troubled child Lizzie was a stand out who gave a realistic nuanced performance (but at times her lines were lost in her fast-paced child-like speech), as was Damien White as the thundering but exasperated Sergeant. Lizzie’s bewildered broken mother and father Angela and Warren were also well portrayed by Heather Crawford and Lyndon Cullen-Reid respectively but at times came off as slightly unreal. As a cast the relationships they built between one another were solid and their individual performances were commendable, but this is a script that requires a heightening sense of tension to build up and explode, but it didn’t quite feel like this ensemble achieved that at least in the performance I viewed.
The direction by Telfer was well-informed - hearing her talk in the bar after the performance about the historical basis of the script (see the James Bulger case) and her choice to respect the playwright’s request to have Lizzie played by an adult highlighted her understanding of the script.
Production designer Shannon Norfolk made excellent design choices, also keeping within the wishes of the writer by having mostly bare basic set. The use of many different child building blocks drew attention to the core kid characters in the play, but also allowed adaptability to different settings. Costuming was also effective in showing the character’s many roles as parents and employees, children and students. There was solid use of sound to create atmosphere particularly in depicting the ‘wolf’, though the songs sung by children in scene changes could’ve been more clearly recorded and projected, as these lyrics were key in telling the story but were at times hard to hear. There was also excellent use of lighting in both colour and intensity by Katherine Kleeman to frame action onstage and evoke mood.
Choosing a script for your theatre company’s premiere production is a big one, as it often determines what to expect from you in future. Oily Rag Theatre’s decision to stage Wolf Lullaby was a bold and quality choice that firmly establishes this company as one that will continually thoughtfully provoke their audience to confront their own humanity. In the case of this production, their audience is forced to examine the darkness we are intrigued by and how we’d react if someone we love or we ourselves find ourselves consumed by it. This is certainly a solid show to see, and a company to keep your eye on.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Oily Rag Theatre will be presenting their final shows of Wolf Lullaby on Thursday 10th, Friday 11th and Saturday 12th of May at Holden Street Theatres - The Studio. More details on the production and how to buy tickets can be found here.
Thumbnail image via the Holden Street Theatres Wolf Lullaby info page.