Current Issue #478

Review:
The Wolves

Daniel Purvis

Teamwork makes the dream work as a strong ensemble of young actors deliver sweat, oranges and a whole lot of teenage banter in Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves.

In the opening scene of The Wolves, nine players jog out onto a patch of green artificial turf, form a circle and start stretching. As they warm up, conversation volleys back and forth and over and under in a chorus of competing mid-western accents that pick apart everything from Cambodian genocide to feminine hygiene products.

In fact, almost every scene starts this way, and ends with the team charging off to battle another faceless opponent. But while this structure continues throughout, the intruding influence of the outside world, and the changing emotional landscape of the team, make for a series of escalating stakes each week.

Rumpus’ long, rectangular performance space – a former Clipsal plant – has been used in all sorts of different ways throughout the theatre’s inaugural season. Tonight, designer Meg Wilson has us seated among two blocks of mock bleachers that pinch either side of the player’s green world. Half the audience watch through a wall of white netting, while a constant background patter of distant whistles and sneaker squeaks by sound designer Antoine Jelk neatly evokes endless adolescent hours spent in high school gymnasiums.

The team has been playing together for some time, and DeLappe uses these group conversations to draw us into its various hierarchies and backstory. The dialogue seems messy and circuitous but there’s an art to DeLappe’s often-hilarious banter; the distinct, at-times complicated personalities of each player are gradually revealed through the stuff they lob into this pot of chatter… and how they stir it.

Into this undefeated combination comes #46 (Katherine Sortini), a home-schooled and under-socialised soccer prodigy. While she barely puts a foot wrong on the field, the group’s internal dynamics make for much trickier terrain. The other players have a shared history, shared school experience, a shared pop cultural vocabulary. #46 does not.

The cast of Rumpus Theatre's The Wolves
Daniel Purvis
The cast of Rumpus Theatre’s The Wolves

But it isn’t just the newcomer upsetting this delicately balanced bubble: each week off-field factors find their way in, whether it’s in the form of a talent scout, an unseen college boyfriend, or a pointed piece of gossip that flourishes behind the backs of the player it concerns.

Despite its American setting, there’s something universal and authentic about the way DeLappe writes the teenage experience, particularly as the group periodically turn on each other in ways that make the audience laugh and wince. These pile-ons and pointed barbs capture without judgement the capacity for teenagers to be casually callous, cruel even, only to realise the impact of their words a few sentences later – when it’s already too late. But that too is a kind of intimacy, and as the play progresses we see how that same closeness can also bring forth much-needed empathy and solidarity.

Such a large ensemble work is an ambitious task for this kind of independent, artist-run theatre, but first time director Elizabeth Hay (best known for onstage work with State Theatre Company and Windmill Theatre Co.) and the cast of nine players make The Wolves a unique – and uniquely thrilling – bit of local theatre . With so many talented young actors on stage relishing every word of DeLappe’s rapid-fire dialogue, it can be hard to know where to look.

Ashton Malcolm is terrific as the loud, ponytail flicking striker #7, while Shabana Azeez is quietly impressive as the team’s ultra-earnest conscience. Kidaan Zelleke is a reliable source of comic energy as the team’s star shit-talker #13, while Holly Langridge brings a compelling nerve-filled energy to the largely silent goalkeeper #00. A late game appearance by Tiffany Kendall-Knight is brief but affecting.

But, like any good team, it’s the combined effort of the whole ensemble that makes the thing work. Full credit to the girls.

The Wolves continues at Rumpus Theatre until 15 December

3 – 15 December

The Wolves

Related Article

Being a teenage girl is a team sport in The Wolves

Walter Marsh

Walter Marsh

See Profile

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

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox