Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Theatre review: The Wolf From the Door

Revolution comes in the form of a black comedy fantasy in the first show of the Royal Court's new season, Rory Mullarkey's The Wolf From the Door. 25-year-old Leo (Calvin Demba) is jobless and homeless, but claims to be able to survive without eating, drinking, sleeping or sweating. When he meets eccentric aristocrat Lady Catherine at a train station and she takes him home, he assumes she wants him for sex, but her plans for him are much grander, and odder. Catherine (Anna Chancellor) is a leading light in an underground network of rebels and terrorists who've been meeting for months in innocuous-seeming groups to plot the overthrow of society. Discovering Leo, with his lack of apparent ties to that society, is the final piece of the puzzle, a figurehead for the revolution who will lead the country when the dust settles.

Pearce Quigley and Sophie Russell lend great support playing all the other roles as Catherine and Leo travel the country - from decapitating a Tesco manager as a signal to begin the revolution, to meeting flower arranging groups, coffee mornings and self defence classes that are covers for rebel cells.

The Wolf From the Door moves through a number of different styles in its surreal journey, something James Macdonald highlights in his highly anti-naturalistic production. Tom Pye's design, with its garden party marquees at the side providing wing space, and cheap furniture that might be found in a church hall being used to create the numerous locations, is like a pastiche of Middle England, while a screen above displays the scene number and location. In a further distancing effect, all the more extreme or violent stage directions are announced in voiceover rather than actually carried out on stage.

Not quite everything is left to the imagination - the website warns of "brief full frontal nudity" but in actual fact Calvin Demba'sFULL-FRONTAL MALE NUDITY ALERT!lasts a couple of minutes, as Leo's mistaken belief that Catherine wants to have sex with him leaves him wandering her palatial home naked. So there's a lot going on in The Wolf From the Door and, as is often the case, this meets with mixed success. There's a lot of funny moments but the tonal shifts mean the surreal black comedy never quite gets to soar; nor does the play quite achieve the disturbing effect it might have.

Meanwhile a scene with the pair trapped in the back of a minicab as Quigley's depressive cabbie drives them to Bath is arguably the heart of the play, but it goes on too long, and while Leo packing away a huge amount of food1 while claiming not to need to eat seems to have some symbolic significance, what exactly it is remains vague.

Of course you could argue that a revolution, however well planned, would result in chaos, and The Wolf From the Door reflects this. Its ambition is admirable and parts of it - there's a great scene with a pair of Civil War reenacters steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the irony as they insist on staying out of the rebellion - are very memorable. So it's a shame that everything doesn't quite come together, but a lot of interesting work is done along the way.

The Wolf From the Door by Rory Mullarkey is booking until the 1st of November at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

1Demba must be having to work out like crazy to stay "very, very beautiful" as the other characters repeatedly call him


  1. It wasn't too bad, was it? But my God that minicab scene was an unspeakable horror.

    1. I thought it started well - Pearce Quigley is great at these characters who make everyone on stage feel awkward - and it was clearly thematically necessary to call back to the scene at the end to counteract some of the mindless optimism. But these scenes where the characters are bored and uncomfortable are hard to do, you have to know when to stop before the feeling extends to the audience.

  2. Sorry to be so erm ... forthright, but could would you be able to tell me if Anna Chancellor gets naked? Not that this would impact on my decision to watch this ...

    1. Nope. Like I say, she ain't up for what Leo's offering. For some reason.