‘The Wolves’ // Ad Astra

‘The Wolves’ was vicious.

It’s the most dramatic thing ever – being a teenager. This is the underlying theme that Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer Prize-shortlisted play ‘The Wolves’ has become renowned for depicting. Here we find the terror and triumphs of team sport and the lives of teenage girls on full show for Ad Astra’s production of this celebrated work.

The piece revolves around a girls’ indoor soccer team. Set on an artificial turf field, the play delves into the team members’ lives, exploring their friendships, conflicts, and personal struggles. Through their conversations and interactions, the audience gains insight into the complexities of adolescence, including issues such as identity, ambition, sexuality, and societal pressures. The work premiered at The Duke on 42nd Street in New York City and has gone on to be produced across the world, and celebrated for its authentic depiction of adolescence and the human condition.

Directed by Caitlin Hill, this piece rocked the shoebox-sized Ad Astra theatre. If you are planning to see any independent theatre this month, make it ‘The Wolves’. Hill’s direction is measured in empathy and complete comprehension of the social hierarchies within the team, with a clear understanding of the mechanics of the game itself.

The stage is set only with a floor of astroturf for the entire show, as we never leave the soccer field. This served as a ‘blank canvas’ for real, physical storytelling, carried impressively by the ensemble. Like sharks, they were in motion for most of the piece, either in the form of synchronised warm-up sequences or impressively choreographed drills with soccer balls. The addition of movement pieces, including a wildly entertaining dance number to M.I.A’s ‘Bad Girls’ was a unique expression that fit the untamed energy of this production perfectly, and was very well received by an audience that was enraptured by the strength exhibited on stage.

The lighting design by Cale Dennis was particularly effective in marking passages of time, but also in powerful visual moments that carved out space and emotional dynamics.

The cast of ‘The Wolves’ consists of nine players, and one of the player’s mothers who intrude on the field at the conclusion for a heartbreaking monologue, carried well by Stella T. Page.

While the characters are vibrant and full of life, the spectre of mortality looms in the background, reminding them of their vulnerability and the fragility of existence. This theme was epitomised in the storyline of #7 and #14, played by Shanay De Marco and Emma Black, a rollicking pair of best friends who experience a great rift. They played the emotional arcs of the characters with genuine care, crafting detailed chemistry which made their conclusion real and tender. It also addresses issues of privilege, class differences, and cultural identity, fostering dialogue about the intersections of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

Emily Marzalek as #46 and Tainika Kane-Potaka as #13, the ‘weirdos’ in the team, ostracised because of their social differences from the other white, middle-class players brought conviction to glimpses into the impacts of their exclusion. Malika Savory as #2 was a standout, playing the naive joy of this character with complete earnestness, creating some brilliantly funny and heartwarming interactions. From misfits and outcasts to captains and queen bees, the full spectrum of the teenage experience is on display in this production, aided by the distinct characterisation of each actor.

Some of the nuances of the script fell away due to the style of direction within this production. The piece leans heavily into the comedy within the script but sometimes lacks respect for the characters themselves. Often the performances felt like adult women making fun of teenage girls, rather than portraying them in all their obscene, awkward glory. Nevertheless, as an ensemble, they functioned as a well-oiled machine and had immense fun through their performances.

Overall, ‘The Wolves’ serves as an exhilarating season opener for Ad Astra, a company establishing themselves as the leading independent producer of existing works in Meanjin. It would also be remiss not to congratulate Ad Astra for programming a work depicting such powerful, honest female characters. If you have ever been or known a teenage girl, you will find yourself somewhere within this story.

‘The Wolves’ performs until 8th March 2024 at Ad Astra Theatre. For more information visit their website.

Note: some names in this review were adjusted for accuracy on 11th March 2024.

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