There’s been some debate recently about realism, reality and realness, prompted by the Almeida’s current production of Little Revolution, which constantly springs to mind while watching The Wolf From The Door. The ideas that have been bouncing around concern differentiating between realism and “realness“, as well as theatre’s ability to self-consciously play with its failure to recreate what is real – two ideas that are very much in play in Rory Mullarkey’s latest outing.
The production constantly flits between real and fabricated realism: plastic chairs and cheap-looking tables are used to create taxis, shop counters and the ruins of the Houses of Parliament – and yet the food eaten throughout the production is real. The speech patterns of the characters are surreal, sometimes bordering on poetic; but the characters’ clothes are realistic, right down to the Roundhead costumes. Above the action, there’s a projection screen, showing us stock images of the scene locations, looking deliberately cheap and awkward; and yet when Calvin Demba’s Leo cries for the final time, there are actual tears on his face. This whole intertwining of the real and surreal is just one example of how Mullarkey, as well as director James Macdonald, has created a complex and entertaining production that’s as bizarre as it is brilliant.
The play takes us on Catherine (Anna Chancellor) and Leo’s journey from an encounter on a train journey to eventual overthrow of the government. Among Tom Pye’s symmetrical, simplistic set, the sixteen scenes take us through Mullarkey’s quirky England as all hobby groups, sports clubs and quaint societies prepare quietly for revolution. The causal delivery of the play’s most extreme lines and moments is startling, and brought out of Mullarkey’s confident text are moments of great black comedy. It’s a weird production, definitely – but it revels in its weirdness, unabashed over those that might come away feeling confused. Don’t come expecting normality.
Chancellor, of course, gives a gorgeous performance, and in Catherine creates a sharp character who, despite her frightening dedication in the revolution, has her softer and more sincere moments. Excellent too is Demba, providing a wonderful foil to Chancellor. His Leo is just as strange as the events taking place around him, but is endearing and lovable enough to invest in emotionally. Praise must also go to Sophie Russell and Pearce Quigley, who perform an array of supporting characters, transforming themselves anew with each re-entrance.
The troublesome stage directions – sudden acts of extreme violence including a decapitation in Tesco and murder in a bank – simply provide further grounds to twist the bounds of real and mock-real. Instead of having actors attempt to enact these doings on stage, a cold voiceover reads the stage directions while the ever-present stage managers alter the set ready to continue. It all stresses the theatricality of Mullarkey’s surreal world, while never letting us forget (through the realistic side) that it’s not so far from our world. But then again, by the end of the play I found myself wondering to what extent the play’s events were real. Just as you mistrust an unreliable narrator in a novel, I began to wonder how much Mullarkey and Macdonald had tricked me into believing the revolution actually took place. On paper, the text suggests that the revolution does happen in the world of the play. But as a result of this fascinating and complex production and its jarring mixture of real and pretend, I couldn’t help thinking – really?