Within cushioned walls that at once both recall an American sports centre and a psychiatric padded cell, a girls’ soccer team on the cusp of adulthood gather in episodes of pre-game warm-ups. As they journey through the last steps towards the championship tournament with hopes of being scouted as the key to their college futures, the introduction of a new player catalyses a series of consequences that throws their carefully balanced system into chaos.
Meeting them together only in these instances, with interspersed moments of imagery and passing intimacy, structures the play in a continual cycle of intrigue, where the events of last week are the topics of today. By purposefully omitting staging the actual games, The Wolves replenishes the distance between our understanding of its characters.
Introducing the audience to this tightly knit team with their joint history in parallel to the new-comer allows us to make discoveries in real-time with her, leading to a satisfying mirrored experience that expertly side-steps overt exposition.
Sarah DeLappe’s deeply resonant and meticulously detailed writing layers interactions to create a depth of space that often moves beyond the boundaries of the stage. Crafting an accurate and familiar teenage dialect where insecurities are worn on the sleeve and the consistently politically charged conversations are held through a refreshing lens.
Providing a voice to this specific age group (that often succumbs to writer’s critique) through current and unapologetically subversive references forms a backbone of humour in the work, developing as a result, not of transparent attempt for laughs. Particularly effective in blurring and taking the audience over lines it then redraws in bold fosters a constant sense of reflection.
Individual performances find the vibrant physicality of their characters in line with the demands of the production, which move through breath to complex voices that are fully embodied. Collectively, their rhythm is tight and maintained, truly listening and responding to each other fully.
This shared, held atmosphere is crucial in the success Ellen McDougall’s simple direction, where any intentional interruptions are felt intensely, which the work harnesses with clear purpose. Ayse Tashkiran’s movement turns stretches into choreography that drives the space and forms a complimentary foundation on which the text can flourish, in the playful and profound.
Reinforcing the insulated limbo of teenage years where each stage feels as preparation for the next, this movement within the set feeds into and supports the content in a clever and considered way that ingrains itself without overpowering the acting.
Dissecting what it means to be understood at an age that is rarely taken seriously, The Wolves earnestly seeks to investigate rather than comment, without ever losing the specificity of its examination. A sincere portrayal of girlhood in western society, though unrelentingly American leaning, it is recognisable in a wider context that captures the nuances and spirit of the current generation.
The Wolves is playing Theatre Royal Stratford East until 17 November. For more information and tickets, click here.