With a few wonderful exceptions (step forward My So-Called Life) teenage girls get a pretty rough time in popular culture. For example, simply calling a type of music as “for teenage girls” is a way for men with guitars, bad facial hair and snotty attitudes to writing something off as unserious, unworthy, without value.
So as the opening chatter of The Wolves had me on the defensive as the girls “umm”ed and “like”ed their way through warm up.
But I needn’t have worried. These girls are given depth as well as shallows. They discuss their lives, their petty and deep pains and problems and they discuss the world around them – from the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to the current crisis of children detained at the Mexican border. These girls are fully rounded characters – each flawed, each interesting, each with something to offer to both their team and their audience.
The set of The Wolves is entirely minimal. Most of the time, it looks like it’s taking place inside a pistachio flavoured bouncy castle. But clever lighting adds to the mood and helps the offstage action of the games we never see come to life (we only ever see warm-ups and post-game chatter).
Where the play falls down for me is in the ending. This is DeLappe’s debut and it’s an incredibly impressive one. Her characters are so well written that I simply want more of them. Instead, she chose to tie the action up somewhat abruptly with an incident that sharply changes the tone and pace of the drama. A more experienced writer might have had the confidence simply to let her characters tell us their own endings.
Equally, for me, the intrusion of the adult world jarred rather than enhanced the action. Ironically, the adult is the least well rounded and convincing both as written and performed.
But overall this is a gripping play. Like a teenage girl, it’s full of emotion, promise, ambition and drama. It hints so often at what it doesn’t want to say out loud and is all the more powerful for it. All the classic teenage tropes are there – eating disorders, sexuality, pregnancy, race, religion and wider identity. But they are handled with such subtlety and grace that they never felt preachy or clunky in the way so many depictions of these issues can do. I was particularly touched by the stories of the loner weird kid, 46 (Annabel Baldwin) who travelled the world and never learned the particular social mores that come with growing up in the suburban USA. And the captain (Hannah Jarrett-Scott) – who is desperate to do her best, while also clearly coming to terms with an identity she is uneasy with.
The Wolves is – at its best – a beautifully honest depiction of girls at their best and worst; girls at their most human. It may have left me wanting more, but only in the way that the very best treats do.
- By Sarah DeLappe
- Director: Ellen McDougal
- Cast includes: Annabel Baldwin, Seraphina Beh, Hannah Jarrett-Scott.
- Theatre Royal Stratford East
- UNTIL 17 November 2018
- Time: 19:30 (selected matinees). Runtime: 90 minutes (no interval)