Current Issue #478

Being a teenage girl is a team sport in The Wolves

Elee Mayo

In US playwright Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer-nominated The Wolves, a team of young South Australian actors explore the pointy end of adolescence via that most fiery crucible: competitive indoor soccer.

“It’s nine 16 and 17-year-old- women onstage, which never happens,” Rebecca Mayo tells The Adelaide Review.

When she first got hold DeLappe’s buzzed-about script, Mayo quickly assembled a group of female friends for an informal read-through. “It’s one of those plays you want to hear out loud,” she says, “and we were just holding the table afterwards, rocked by it.”

Over a year later, the play became an obvious contender for the first season of Rumpus Theatre, with Rumpus co-convenor Mayo donning a soccer strip and seasoned Windmill Theatre Co and State Theatre Company actor Elizabeth Hay (Baba Yaga, The Gods of Strangers) stepping across into the role of director for the first time.

“It’s a funny thing… when we try to explain what the play’s about, it’s kind of hard because nothing really happens. There are notwists and turns’,” Hay explains.

Instead, audience members gain a pitch side seat to the pre-match rituals of the nine teenage Wolves. As the players shoot the shit between stretches and warm ups, the mounting pressures of their lives outside the rec centre inevitably find a way in.

The cast of The Wolves in rehearsal
Elee Mayo
Elizabeth Hay (front left) and Rebecca Mayo (second from right) with cast members of The Wolves

“It’s set in suburban America, so these girls are at a point in their education where they’re having to think about college applications, so there’s a sense of competition against not only the other team, but also among each other,” Hay says. “Suddenly the team that you’ve played with for years becomes your competition!”

It’s a note that certainly resonates with Hay and the cast on many levels: with nine distinct young female characters, a play like this is a rarity in a theatre world that more often sees young actors jostle for a handful of roles.

“I think for the cast, who would normally find themselves pitted against each other in an audition room for one role like this in a show, to have an entire cast of young women is something pretty special,” Hay says. “It’s that thing of when suddenly a college scout is at your soccer game… it’s a similar feeling to when there’s an agent at a show and there’s a ripple of slight insecurity that there aren’t enough roles for everybody, or positions on the team. We’ve been making those comparisons – the years of hard work, the potential for it all to come crashing down with an injury!”

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Joining Mayo on the field is a strong list of young and emerging players, from State Theatre ensemble alum Rachel Burke (Sense & Sensibility, In The Club, Jasper Jones) and Windmill Theatre regular Ashton Malcolm (Grug, Rumpelstiltskin) to fresh draft picks like Shabana Azeez, who makes her theatre debut after appearances in locally-filmed SBS drama The Hunting and MOD. interactive exhibition Seven Siblings from the Future.

In The Wolves, the sheer volume of young women onstage also shows audiences a breadth and nuance of modern teenage experience rarely seem. “It’s extraordinary enough that it’s a story all about women, and young women – teenagers whose stories are often invalidated,” Mayo says. “But it’s also epic in the sense that it’s an incredible story, and it’s beautifully complex and these girls are all just figuring it out together.

“The other thing it provides is this really nice platform for young women to be very physical onstage and for it not to be about bodies, or sexualising them, it’s just about them using their bodies to the extreme, and not being ashamed of it,” Hay says.

Elee Mayo
The cast of The Wolves hone their soccer skills in rehearsals

“There are so many types of what a teenager is, so we’re excited to have a real variety of bodies on stage,” Mayo echoes.

In addition to the play’s physicality, DeLappe’s dialogue embraces the vernacular of modern youth – often dismissed as a sign of vapidness – with every ‘like’ and ‘um’ carefully deployed for maximum effect. “What’s so exciting for us is that DeLappe has really nailed the ‘teenage voice’,” Hay says. “It really reflects how teenagers speak to each other and how they think about things; it’s really complex but it feels really natural.”

But, while The Wolves works to authentically capture the world of its players, Hay assures us that the production will stop short of inviting audience members to experience that other rite of passage known to indoor soccer spectators: copping a ball to the face.

“Look, we’re doing our best to keep all balls on the ground,” Hay laughs. “The girls are certainly very close to the audience in the space, and it will be quite a visceral experience… but you can rest assured you will come out with all your teeth.”

3 – 15 December

The Wolves

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The Wolves

Walter Marsh

Walter Marsh

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Walter is a writer and editor living and working on Kaurna Country, and The Adelaide Review’s Digital Content Producer.

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