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The Wolf, at London’s Network Theatre

Friday, 26 August, 2011

Sturdy Beggars’ production of Molnar’s farce

The Wolf is a curious beast. It is constructed in three parts. An opening scene in a restaurant sets the tone as a traditional, if slightly manic, investigation into the nature of romantic love, possessiveness, and the ideal of marriage. A centre section provides a delicious, funny and slightly disturbing counterpoint to that initial idea. And then finally we return to the straightforward narrative structure, to find ideals shattered, harmony replaced by something quite different and an edgy marital truce, which looks as though it will only be a temporary arrangement. The wolf is still at the window, prowling.

I was reminded, oddly, (since only the central theme is similar) of James Joyce’s masterful story, The Dead, in which another wife finds her situation compromised utterly by the memory of a lover. Here though, the tone is quite different, and in that surreal and slippery territory that forms the centre of the play, Molnar’s talent and that of director Jamie Harper, truly blossom. I don’t think the sight of three eggs on ice has ever been more amusing.

Alex Andreou gets to have any amount of fun, and superbly delivers his mountainous tenor (one of four very different characters he is called upon to play in this section of the play) in the grand manner: think Pavarotti with a slightly bigger ego and you won’t be too far away.

But if the overall theme is similar to the Joyce story, in this core section we’re almost in the world of The Importance of Being Earnest. The wonderful Countess, apoplectic at her guests’ behaviour, loses brain cells by the second and her grovelling butler has a particularly good line in sadism directed toward one of his minions. It is in this section too that the costumes come into their own.

The magic kingdom disappears in the third part of the play and the obsessive lawyer whose only talent is to make money (Brendan Jones, who spends much of the play at or near boiling point) finally realises that his particular blend of self-loathing possessiveness has brought about something much emptier than the clearing of skeletons from their cupboards. The nature of his obsession, an instinct that we have laughed at heartily throughout, finally leaves us in sorrow.

This is an insightful ensemble production, which takes us on a roller-coaster of emotion, lovingly played but let down just a little by the quality of the set, which showed perhaps a lack of investment rather than intent. Great costumes, a wonderfully ironic scene change in the first half and the energy of all concerned more than make up for that.

Cast: Daniel Addis, Alex Andreou, Helen Booth, Katherine French, Brendan Jones, Josie Martin, Lucy McCabe and Andrew Mudie.

Directed by: Jamie Harper; Associate Director: Hugo Thurston; Designed by: Charlotte Randell; Lighting Design: Daniel Addis; Sound Design: Marianna Roe; Music by Manos Hadjidakis

Reviewed 25 August 2011

© michael spring 2011

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