Blue Elephant Theatre 26 – 29 March
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Presented as a work-in-progress, The Wolf Inside Me is a work commissioned by the Blue Elephant following consultation with the theatre’s Youth Board members, aged 8 to 16.
As usual, the young people come up with more mature, socially important and community-minded ideas than the older generation would credit them with, resulting in this study of teenage loss and grief. Director Sepy Baghaei, dramaturg Grace Chapman and actors/devisers Elizabeth Schenk and Sean Stevenson spent a week on the concept, and the showings became largely improvised following a set structure. Of course, this means that there is an inherent freewheeling style at times, and some awkward pauses and overlaps, but these fit the mental and social states of the two characters.
Between scenes where Hannah (Elizabeth Schenk) and Connor (Sean Stevenson) meet at the observatory, they are isolated in their own grief, Connor’s grief voiced by his electric guitar, and Hannah’s by her constant failed attempts to voice her ideas about Pluto’s existence. The repeated, often uncomfortable accompaniment of the guitar is an effective ad affecting way of demonstrating Connor’s mental state, as in his day to day existence he seems to have put up a barrier of not seeming to care about the world. The contrast between his own music and the melody he plays that his mother wrote is a lovely light detail adding to the complicated pieces of his feelings. Although it is obvious very quickly that Hannah is dealing with a recent and raw loss, Connor’s loss is revealed more subtly and gradually. Hannah is frantically searching for answers and reasons in her coursework and trivial things, echoing her desperate need for answers to the big question – why did her dad have to die? Both actors capture the confusion and anger of the characters beautifully without overdramatising or trivialising the issues.
A fantastic analogy often used is that children jump in and out of puddles of grief, while adults are swept along in a deep river of grief. Teenagers, trying their hardest to be independent and mature often find it hard to talk about their feelings and well-meaning people expressing sympathy is the last thing they need. Hannah and Connor’s characters demonstrate this in a well-judged and empathetic way that is ripe for further development. The play currently runs at about 45minutes, ending after the pair open up honestly about some of their feelings. It would be interesting to follow the characters meeting up over time to watch their relationship grow. Ideally this would involve them beginning to chat about becoming comfortable and able to speak to other people close to them about their grief and begin to share more with them, leading to a gradual reduction of the pair’s need for each other and a fading, but never disappearance of the pain of the electric guitar.
A promising and exciting beginning for an important and relevant project.