Sinister, twisted, and unsettling—these are the three words that come to mind when I think about Tim Barcode’s Wolf. The poster for the play is a striking image; a pair of wolf eyes plastered across a young man’s face. Yet the posters hardly served as a hint for what was to come.
Hosted at Bats, Wolf is performed in a set resembling a one-room house. It is, at best, ‘kitchen sink realism’, nestled in a crumbling Christchurch flat during the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. The narrative structure was startlingly old-fashioned. In fact, you could slot the characters into an 18th century melodrama very easily. The nuclear family; an unlikely group of stock characters comprise of fair maiden Cushla, villain Lee, the drunk Ali, and hero Mike.
The show interrogates several taboo subjects, namely domestic violence, jealousy, and distrust. The dialogue saw a surge of insults. Words like bitch and slut were flippantly thrown around, particularly during climatic, shocking ending which reinforced the melodramatic storyline. Mike (Ryan Mead) heroically runs onstage in order to save Cushla (Talia Carlisle), who is heard screaming behind her boyfriend Lee’s strangling hands. Cushla’s damsel-in-distress character was directed and written under a blatant male-gaze, and I would seriously question this in the context of a contemporary New Zealand drama. Regardless of whether the staging sought to evoke shock-factor or suspense, it became prevalent was the heightened sense of heteronormative characterisation in the script.
The disconcerting rumble of the earthquake soundscape seemed to snarl angrily like a wolf, reinforcing the play’s premise of “an evil that lurks.” The sound technician should be applauded for the sense of uneasiness created when presenting the audience with the energy and atmosphere of a natural disaster. A confrontational recording of Christchurch resident’s reactions to the 2011 earthquake blare through the speaker system; the gasps and screams accentuating the turmoil of the on-stage family relationships.
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Some stand out performances grounded the show. In particular Cassie (Susannah Donovan), the steam-punk next-door neighbour, who offers an earnest eccentricity to the ensemble’s dynamic. The lead Mike (Mead) offered a mature, energizing embodiment of an ex-lawyer in amongst the total disorder.
For a show that promised us wolves and earthquakes, what remained was something much more terrifying.