A serious evening at the theatre.
Themes of parental loss (of a disabled son), an implied incestuous relationship between brother and sister and the ensuing weight of guilt are drawn out over 90 awkward, painful minutes, broken from time to time by the efforts of the sister’s ‘boyfriend’, Lars to lighten the tone.
This is one of the purposes of psychological drama, to make us look at the dark underbelly of the human psyche and I believe that live performance has an important role to play in excavating our emotional landscapes. But in this case, I found it difficult to be drawn into the world of the play enough to care about or be convinced by the characters and their problems.
This is a text-heavy production, presenting enormous challenges to the four actors over the continuous 90 minutes of the play. I felt that the production was a little too long thus dissipating its dramatic power. The four actors seemed a little physically uncomfortable and awkward at the start, perhaps a reflection of the social and cultural context and of the tragic situation of the play, but their performances became more convincing and embodied as the play progressed.
Little Wolf is a reworking of Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen’s comparatively rarely performed play, Little Eyolf by writer Simon Harris and Lucid Theatre Company. Harris, who adapted and directed the play, has set it in Norway in the present day. The upper middle class English accents of the actors sat a little awkwardly with this Norwegian setting for me.
The geographical context is reflected in Holly Piggot’s set – a cross-section of a child’s bedroom, with IKEA style floor and wardrobe – and the costume – some Norwegian knitwear and socked feet (Norway’s version of slippers).
The set, which opens the child’s bedroom out to the audience so we feel like flies on the wall watching the drama play out, evokes a sense of a world imploding which frames the psychological journey of the characters very effectively. The floorboards of the room are lifted by the actors from time to time, a metaphor for searching, for the lost boy, for answers, for ways to survive their grief and their guilt.
The room also has a wardrobe, which is occupied by the father for much of the second half of the play and through which the lost son and father speak to each other. The wardrobe, or cupboard has been a strong metaphor for a magical gateway into another world in children’s literature, for example, C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe and Lynne Reid Banks’ more recent The Indian in the Cupboard. My interpretation of the message here is that the stories of our childhood provide magical openings to other worlds through which we can come to terms with our present situations.
The psychological drama was resolved a little too easily towards the end of the play. The underlying hints of an incestuous relationship were dissipated when Asta (the sister) revealed to her brother (Alfred) that she wasn’t really his sister, leaving a series of questions hanging in the air. Asta then made a split-second decision to go to Singapore with Lars, and in the closing stages, the parental couple were reconciled to find a way forward in their lives. Whilst these resolutions provided ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, I found them a little unconvincing in the tradition of naturalism and realism set up by the play.
Ultimately, I was left wanting a deeper exploration of the dark themes that took me on an emotional journey rather than leaving me, like the character Lars, uncomfortably on the outside looking in. Perhaps the intention was for the audience to be voyeuristic witnesses to these personal tragedies?