“What if I said, you are the single most important breath in my space…
that change anything?”
Wolf Play opens with the actor playing Wolf speaking to the audience
about truth (“a wobbly thing”), imagination and the wolf. The wolf is a
metaphor, a symbol, a name and a troubling symbol of masculinity. Wolf is an
actor, voicing the thoughts of a child, who thinks himself a wolf in boy’s
clothing. A boy from East Asia who has been adopted by one American family and
who has now been given to another family with the signing of a simple waiver.
has given the wolf away. Robin Shepherd has adopted him. The exchange is
straightforward and troubling because of that. The handover is approved by gentleman’s
agreement, though Peter starts to question everything when he realises that the
man he thinks is Robin’s partner is actually her brother Ryan, and her real
spouse is Ash, a female boxer.
He leaves Wolf
with them, though. His objections to their lifestyle don’t override the
decision he’s made with or for his wife.
character, is represented in voice by actor Yuchen Wang, and in body by a cloth
puppet, controlled mostly by Wang but, on occasion, by the rest of the ensemble
cast. Wang’s voice is calming – plus the occasional wolf howl – and the
puppetry is gentle, precise and full of empathy. The combined performance is
extraordinary. The boy is there, in front of us, even if we must use our
imagination to see the truth and the child and the wolf inside.
Much of the
conflict in the play centres on adults who are not ready to be parents in
conflict with partners, wives and brothers about how best to raise the boy.
Peter’s concern that Wolf might be raised by two women is almost the least of
the problems, since Ash isn’t even sure she wants the child and Robin didn’t
even go to the trouble of adopting him properly, connecting with his original
adoptive parents in a Facebook group.
emotional centre of the play is the boy, put up for adoption in his home
country, and then shunted from one family to another without much planning or thoughtfulness.
The boy is six years old, fully capable of communication and understanding, who
has already started to think of himself in animalistic terms. Does being the
wolf help him to become more resilient under trying circumstances or does casting
himself as the wolf help the boy to distance himself from his underlying
What are we
teaching boys when we raise them to believe in alpha males and lone wolves or when they are told “there
are two wolves inside you”?
Cousin’s Peter is nervous and twitchy and unpredictable. Jing-Xuan Chan’s Robin
is the most empathetic adult, trying her hardest to raise a child who is not
her own, twice over. Brooke Lee’s Ash is physical and energetic and Brooke’s
performance captures a person whose family is changed in a morning and is slowly
coming around to accepting the new boy in their life, when circumstances change
for everyone yet again.
deeply moved by Wolf Play. This production at Red Stitch, beautifully
and smartly directed by Isabella Vadiveloo, is clear in its communication and
execution. We are there with this boy, stuck in the middle of a maelstrom of
parental figures, none of them willing to take full responsibility. But beyond
that, the play is about the commodification of children and the unreality of
childhood – where fantasy clashes with reality, sometimes far too often.
I came away
thinking about the boy and the wolf inside him and Yuchen Wang’s incredible
performance to bring the child to life.
And I came away
thinking about Philip Larkin’s poem, This Be the Verse
fuck you up, you mum and dad.
not mean to, but they do.”
And I came
away thinking about how the Wolf’s parents, all of them, don’t think about him
enough. Even if he does believe them when they say “you are the single most
important breath in my space”, while they expend their breath arguing over him
and not for him.
- Keith Gow, Theatre First
Photos by Jodie Hutchinson