Wolfie, a wonderfully bizarre, irreverent take on the perils of the care system. A well-constructed modern fable but sometimes less is more. Katherine Knight reviews:

If you were raised as a wolf and thrown into the human world, would you survive? From womb to Waitrose, Ross WillisWolfie follows the lives of two twins separated at birth and their journey in and out of the care system – one raised by a foster mother, the other by a wolf.

Wolfie deals in sparkles & unicorns and talking trees to cover up for the horrible, aching sadness of it all. It’s a successful merger by Willis – the fairy-tale format provides a useful foil to the stark reality, neither story proving any less heart-wrenching than the other.

Wolfie Theatre503

Erin Doherty & Sophie Melville (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

It’s also a play at its best when it manages to settle down. The relentless movement too easily becomes a distraction, the howls echoing too loudly in the small, confined space of Theatre503. Moment of humour are certainly much-needed, even when they dissolve into caricature – Lisa Spirling‘s juxtaposition brings a surreal lightness to what would otherwise be stiflingly dark proceedings. Unborn children take the form of vegetables with googly eyes, jerked around in the style of puppetry. Particular highlights are the ridiculous, overbearing varieties of trees, engaging in idle gossip even as they file the paperwork of lost children,

“Phyllis, your sapling is off her fucking head on helium”

is somehow worked effortlessly into a poignant segment on growing up.

Wolfie Theatre503

Erin Doherty & Sophie Melville (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

But it is in the moments of rest where Wolfie‘s core message comes through strongest. Erin Doherty is particularly moving as the child left behind, a girl desperately craving a mother’s love. Her eyes light up in wonder at a science experiment; quiet frustration intensely boils over into anger. As the fabled wolf-child, Sophie Melville‘s boundless energy drives the show forward. Melville comes into her own in the second half as she enters the ‘human’ world once more.

A scene at the job centre brings the audience closest to the core social commentary of the play,

“Do you have a next of kin? Someone who would be sad if you died?

“Let’s put that down as a no.”

Wolfie Theatre503

Erin Doherty (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

Just as quickly, Wolfie is back into the world of the absurd – a woman donating a kidney in a show of performative activism; a hyper-competitive mother snorting her baby’s teeth. All this is done to highlight the absurdity of the care system and in these pointed segments it certainly succeeds, but at times it becomes too distracted for its own good.

The moment the entire show builds towards – the reunion of the twins – is sudden and striking, facilitated by Rajiv Pattani‘s lighting and Richard Hammarton‘s sound. And yete Wolfie doesn’t end on a fairy tale note. Nor should it. It may not be quite the fairy-tale ending, but it strikes a balance between fantastic and realistic: a fitting end to a show that has continuously straddled the two.

★★★☆☆

Wolfie plays at Theatre503 until 13 April 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the venue website.