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The Company of Wolves
Published on Tuesday, 14 August 2012
3

3 stars

C venues - C eca (venue website)
Theatre
1-13, 15-27 Aug, 8:35pm-9:25pm
Reviewed by M H Allner

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

Come on in, sit upon the rugs, gather round a wizened woman and describe your heart’s desire. Listen to that woman’s voice as it crackles through the old wives’ tales of yore: stories of snowy nights so cold and so dark that only spirits can exist between the trees, stories of slavering jaws and blood-red eyes that seek and snap after immaculate flesh, stories of Walpulgis Night, the birthday of beasts, the feast of wolves. As she speaks, the shadows flicker like a beast behind you. Can you hear his snarling breath?

This is the opening of 3-Bug’s adaptation of one of Angela Carter’s most poignant and powerful retellings. One of her sexual, seditious, seventies variants of our most beloved tales, The Company of Wolves explores themes of female identity, sexual potency, the raison d’etre of womanhood.  Yet in this sparse room, sat on the floor like curious school children and with the four-person cast acting on a strip between the two sides of audience, the dark, emblematic voice of Carter is distorted by the same Victorian nostalgia she desperately wanted eviscerated.

Awaiting us on our arrival were baskets of arts-and-crafts: glitter-glue that every critic seems incapable of forgetting, glittery flowers and stars that can be stuck to your paper, fuzzy straws that you can poke through the paper. It’s fun and secretly enjoyable, though it grows rather irrelevant and awkward when ‘Rosaleen’ (Beckah Lucking) comes to collect them with a girlish giggle and shy smile. Perhaps it’s meant to trigger memories of our own youthful innocence (I noticed that no one in the audience was younger than eighteen or so). Or maybe it’s intended to make us think more closely on what we want, other than marriage and good prospects as creepy old Granny (Joanna Clark) suggests. In either case, it seemed a little gratuitous and did little in terms of atmosphere once we were settled.

Furthermore, the whilst Elliot Blagden’s strumming chords were pretty and his voice delightful, his enunciation was sometimes unclear, making the first moments rather confusing. Yet once the scene was set, the final echoes of minstrel music dissipating to the corners of the room, we were left in the space where reality and fiction blur. Murmured words of Revelations and Leviticus trickle across the room before talk of superstition; the irony is jarring. The wolf (Luke Shepherd) creeps around the audience, peering between us as if staring into the windows of Rosaleen’s house. We tumble into a sinister, stranger world.

It is then that you begin to look past the felt-tip wrinkles on Granny’s face and the churlish tones of Rosaleen’s voice, and notice that these four can act. They shift and turn and move with the words, conveying characters behind masks, reflecting the wolf that’s ‘hairy on the inside’ and the girl surrounded by the ‘invisible pentacle of her own virginity’. They take her shawl, ‘red as poppies, red as blood on snow’ and make sure its ‘emblematic scarlet’ is unmistakably a sign of her movement towards adulthood.

As a coming-of-age story, this performance does not deliver something new or unexpected, but rather an affirmation. Peppered with folk music and folk tale, we do not dally from the path, but choose to take it alongside the little girl and the wolf. As a play, it is simple with great use of the stage and well-acted. Sitting on the fringe of immersive theatre, it allows us to analyse in the same way as morality tales. And although I was vaguely disappointed by the fact that it takes so much influence from the 1984 Neil Jordan film adaptation, I felt that those who have not read Carter’s work or watched its big-screen sister could easily be lost to its drama.

Marina Warner said that fairytales are the 'dictionary of the imagination’. They contain for us the vocabulary of our childhoods and our adulthoods, giving us the words we refer to time and again in our own lives, presenting us with integral knowledge of our experiences. Yet none seems so poignant as Little Red Riding Hood, the 'true love' of many – including Charles Dickens who declared he 'would have known perfect happiness' had he married her, and Luciano Pavarotti, who was 'enchanted' by her and her death. Angela Carter brought that girl, the young woman with her own power, to life.

In 3-Bugs’ production I feel these scenes of sexual awakening, of the girl finally lying between the ‘paws of a tender wolf’, would be more poignant if I wasn’t covered in silver glitter glue… but there is still something here that alludes to female absolution, and  Carter’s irresistible dynamism.

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