The loss of a child is one of the most horrifying and emotionally exhausting events that can happen to anyone, and none more so than the child's parents and family. We've all seen it on the news, when a child is reported missing and the local community joins the emergency services in searching the area, combing the landscape for clues. And then the dreaded press conference where the parents issue an emotional plea for the child to come home, reassuring them that they've done nothing wrong, that mummy won't be angry. Or pleading with an abductor to let the child go, unharmed. It's devastating just to watch such a scenario play out, never mind be directly involved with it.
So you'd expect a play about the loss (and subsequent death) of a child to be packed with raw emotion, to grab you by the heartstrings and seriously mess you up. It's a fundamentally emotional event, invoking anger, frustration, hatred, fear and despair. Indeed, the publicity for Little Wolf - an adaptation by Simon Harris of Henrik Ibsen's 1895 play Little Eyolf - promises a "vital and raw" production, but unfortunately it turns up lacking.
|Gwydion Rhys, John-Paul Macleod|
and Melangell Dolma
I considered that the way the actors appear to be holding back might be a creative decision on Harris's part, that the traditionally restrained performance style of an Ibsen play has been carried through to this modernisation, to create a contrast between the raw emotion of the subject matter and the slightly numbed performances. But if that is the case, then it fundamentally undermines the play and its subject matter, because you can't numb the audience's feelings and reactions to such a horrifying event. The audience demands to feel and share the despair, but all they really get is a cavalcade of arguing and swearing, neutered of true feeling.
At its most basic level, I did not believe the situation or the characters, because they were not acting as you would expect. Admittedly, there is an inherent reason why some of the characters - notably Wolf's mother Rita - don't act the way one might expect, because the entire play is essentially about how she craves the loving, physical relationship she had with husband Alfred before she fell pregnant. She does not love her son the way mothers should, or at least she doesn't express her love the same way. Alfred has, at times, been an absent father, but one who intended to change his ways and concentrate fully on Wolf's upbringing. Too little, too late of course.
|Melangell Dolma and Gwydion Rhys|
Alex Clatworthy makes Rita a thoroughly unlikeable woman for most of the play. She resents Wolf, wishes he'd never been born, because motherhood has destroyed the special (and physical) marriage she had with Alfred. It was a fascinating and very brave theme for Ibsen to write about because it makes the play slightly difficult to watch. Maybe more mothers (and fathers) than would ever admit it have felt some level of resentment toward their children than we expect. It's one of those taboo thoughts that people suppress and never talk about. It's a courageous thing to depict on stage, and Clatworthy succeeds in portraying a woman who is unashamed of these thoughts.
Clatworthy shines brightest at the end of the play when she has an extended speech which summarises exactly what happened to the disabled Wolf all those years ago, and why both parties feel guilty and divided by events. It's what the audience has been desperate to know from the start, but is it clumsy or rewarding to have it info-dumped at the end? It feels a little like Poirot gathering everyone together in the drawing room to reveal the killer - we want to know, but must it be told so bluntly?
In support there is Melangell Dolma as Alfred's half-sister Asta, and the secondary theme of incest running through the play is perhaps the better judged. There is a genuine connection between the siblings which benefits from being suggested rather than expressed too strongly, because incest is another taboo that dare not speak its name. The holding of the hands, the lingering hugs, the sister dressing and undressing the brother. The very subtleties that work against the principal storyline actually benefit the incest subplot.
There is a cracking play to be staged in Simon Harris's adaptation. His idea to modernise Ibsen's work for the 21st century brings so much more relevance and dimension to the source material, but sadly this production does not do it justice. When a child goes missing, and is then found dead, it's a horrifying, devastating event, a living nightmare. Sadly, this fundamental truth fails to come across on this occasion.
Addendum: Please read the writer/ director's comment on the performance below, for fair context.
Writer: Simon Harris (based on the Henrik Ibsen play)
Director: Simon Harris
Cast: Alex Clatworthy (Rita); Melangell Dolma (Asta); John-Pul Macleod (Lars); Gwydion Rhys (Alfred)
Performed at Pontio, Bangor, on November 24th-25th, 2017. Performance reviewed: November 24th, 2017
Lucid Theatre on Facebook (retrieved Nov 25 2017)
Little Wolf behind the scenes videos on YouTube (retrieved Nov 25 2017)