Playwright Simon Harris is on ravishing form with this exquisite reworking of Ibsen’s 1894 play Little Eyolf for this first outing by theatre company Lucid.
Also directed by Harris, Little Wolf, demands to be seen and ranks as Cardiff’s English language theatre event of the autumn, hitting the spot on every level; acting, directing, set design, lighting, script and the interweaving all of these to produce a superb evening. Now on tour across Wales, the production will stay with you long after the 90 minutes of gut-wrenching theatre is over. No need to drag Ibsen kicking and screaming into some updated Wales (such transpositions rarely work with such characteristic writers embedded in their own cultures). Rather the intense drama unfolds in Norway and while there are updates to the contemporary these make sense to the text, to the story, to the characters, such as Lars being a computer “nerd” who struggles with human relationships yet is destined to move to Singapore to use digital technology to make connections, linking islands. Perhaps no man really will be an island.
Gwydion Rhys and Alex Clatworthy
Melangell Dolma and Gwydion Rhys
Melangell Dolma and Alex Clatworthy
There are casualties or at least consequences in such an updating, the language is more direct, the subtleties regarding relationship between certain characters, particularly half-siblings Freddie and Asta, is swept away, the portrayal of the damaged child is removed, the sexualisation of characters is intensified. What is gained by the application of a today’s world and in terms of the production technical elements, video, lighting, for example, makes this a richly relevant and deeply satisfying work.
We have a single set of a child’s bedroom with toys on the floor, and the always symbolic train set, with actions off stage alluded to. The most important prop is an IKEA style wardrobe which becomes another space for the characters, particularly the father as he implodes. The lighting of Holly Piggot’s intricate yet seemingly simple set, the characters and the space from Jane Lalljee is an essential element to the telling of the story as well as creating atmospheres, moods and delighting us in its own beauty. Jorge Lizalde’s video projections and the sounds from are profound components of the work, not aesthetic considerations but integral to the narrative and our understanding of the over-arching (and underlying) emotions and cultural contexts. It is in these that we meet Wolf, we hear his innocent, heart-breaking interactions with his father, the nursery rhymes of the children and the visual and aural environment of these horribly damaged individuals whose lives are rocked out of their ugly statis by his disappearance.
Gwydion Rhys is tremendous as struggling writer Alfred “Freddie” Allmers with acting of a restrained intensity that makes you hold your breath. The text is delivered with such reality that you are swept along with him as he pours out his thoughts, his fears, his angst and just occasionally joy. He methodically lifts the floor of the child’s bedroom, both opening the void while at the same time taking refuge in that closed space of the boy’s wardrobe and wrapping Wolf’s small Norwegian knitted sweater over his own shoulder.
This truthfulness is also the hallmark of his deeply troubled wife Rita, wealthy and desperately insecure (probably for good reason) played with such sharpness and pain by Alex Clatworthy that our attitude towards her is one of continuous convulsion. Ibsen’s genius intellectual meets troubled intense woman who has the obsessed other woman inside their relationship.
The most difficult role is that taken by Melangell Dolma as Asta, Freddie’s half-sister, whose emotional and sexual feelings towards her sibling is the most troubling in the work. At times prop to the husband and to the wife, at times threat to them both, and, in this working, ultimately horrified that she has become a pet to them both, a replacement for that disabled child. Again, this is not a one-dimensional portrayal and, as with the married couple, it is impossible to uniformly like, dislike, approve, decry or even judge.
While John-Paul Macleod as Lars has a slighter role and brings what seems a comedy element he delivers the voice of a less self-obsessed and sensitive, compassionate world with his understated expression of sympathy on Wolf’s death. Here, he is the only character that actually accepted, liked and probably understood the boy.
Gwydion Rhys, John-Paul Macleod and Melangell Dolma
Reduced to four characters we never see the mysterious woman who visits the house and Pied Piper like takes the child away. Has she been evil and killing the child or, in a dark way, liberated the family through the death of the damaged child? Are the final decisions of the four characters realistic? They are logical following the denouement of plot for Astra and Lars yet for Freddie and Rita is more troubling and a more open-ended conclusion would seem more pleasing but perhaps more cowardly.
This is theatre that shows others how it can and should be done. A small cast, a touring production with all the limitations and demands that brings, a seemingly little known play rather than a safe bet classic, yet a work as embracing and finely crafted and warming as the multi patterned, enveloping, robust knitwear from the Nordic world.
Images: Jorge Lizalde
CHAPTER 20–21+23–28 Oct 7.30pm
chapter.org 029 2030 4400
VOLCANO THEATRE 01–04 + 07–11 Nov 7.30pm
volcanotheatre.co.uk 01792 464 790 02
THEATR BRYCHEINIOG Brecon 16 Nov 7.30pm & 17 Nov 2.00pm
brycheiniog.co.uk 01874 611 622
THE RIVERFRONT Newport 22 Nov 7.45pm
THEATR CLWYD Mold 13 - 14 Nov 7.45pm
theatrclwyd.com 01352 701521
PONTIO Bangor 24 – 25 Nov 7.30pm
pontio.co.uk 01248 38 28 28
Writer and director Simon Harris:
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