If you’re lucky enough to live in the vicinity of the Theatre Royal Stratford East, or if you have some time on your hands between Wednesday October 24th and Saturday November 17th, you could be in for a real theatrical treat. Sarah DeLappe’s award-winning and hugely acclaimed play “The Wolves”
has arrived in England for its European debut. If British audiences enjoy it as much as their American counterparts have, it’s likely to be the talk of the review press for its entire run.
Awarded the full five stars by both The Independent and the New York Times, DeLappe’s story is a coming of age tale set within the context of global politics and femininity, all cunningly disguised as a story about a women’s high school football team. Despite the title, there isn’t a wolf in sight. There isn’t a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and there isn’t a werewolf hidden around the corner. What we have instead is a nice, thick slice of, wolf gold
, which is also the name of well known and popular online slot game.
To the casual observer, the play might initially appear to be yet another take on life in high school, and the concerns and aspirations experienced by almost all girls as they’re on their way to womanhood. We spend most of our time with the main characters in their locker rooms, or on their training field, where they joke about boys and tampons. It’s only when one of them makes a passing reference to the Khmer Rouge that the audience is forced to sit up and take notice. There’s something going on here beyond the obvious, and from that point on, we’re scouring for the play’s hidden depths.
One of the most striking things about the play is how natural the dialogue feels. You could be forgiven for thinking you were watching an improv performance, such is the way the ladies talk over and above each other, all of them fighting for their voice to be heard. In fact, it’s a deliberate and intelligent design choice by DeLappe, who actually took her inspiration for the play from an exhibition of Middle Eastern Art. Something about the exhibits inspired her, and as she made her way home from the museum, she found herself typing a fictional conversation on into her phone; the play started purely as this one conversation, and grew from there.
”It was like a stream of consciousness”, explains DeLappe, “but I knew when the voices broke, and which voice belonged to which person”. She compared the writing process to composing an orchestra, with each girl’s individual voice being an instrument; always present in the background but then receiving moments of focus when the occasion calls for it.
Make no mistake, though. This play may touch on global politics and our attitudes to the world around us, but the girls aren’t just a mouthpiece for the author’s own views. This is a piece that’s about the voices of young women, and how they relate to each other in isolation. No men appear in the play at all, and there’s barely an adult to be seen. The play, and the cast, are young, fresh and vibrant. They’re largely untainted by the world around them as of yet, and full of the vigor of youth.
They also use the language of youth. This isn’t a play to attend for the easily offended. There are plenty of expletives and swear words to be found here, as well as subject matter that’s designed to challenge the observer. Expect to see frank and unflinching discussion about eating disorders, and sexual identity, and peer pressure. There’s trauma to be uncovered as the play goes on, and it’s represented in a way that feel ‘real’. Much was made over Donald Trump’s “locker room talk”
in the run up to the most recent US Presidential Election. This is locker room talk from the other side of the gender divide.
You may wonder why a play with such gritty content requires the backdrop of a sports team to bring it to life, but the physicality of the play is part of the story. The entire cast had to be specially trained to perform football skills convincingly, and their demonstration of said skills is constant. Rarely are the characters sitting still. They’re running, kicking balls back and forth and generally remain in a state of high physical activity. In some cases, the constant exertion is either a direct or indirect reference to the state of a character’s mind. The goalkeeper in particular will tell you a lot about how she’s feeling and thinking without saying a word.
DeLappe says that part of her motivation for writing the play was to push back against labels and stereotypes which are applied to girls the same age as the cast. She feels that too often, young women are portrayed as brainless creatures who are unable to pull themselves away from selfies and Instagram; girls who care only for boys and parties. Instead she spoke of creating a cast of “warriors”. “At a certain point I thought I was writing a war movie. Instead of a bunch of nineteen year old men going to battle, it was a group of sixteen year old girls preparing for a soccer game. It’s a different type of war”.
In a lot of ways, DeLappe is representing herself in the play. Only 26 years old, she’s as much a “Millennial” and part of the “Instagram generation” as anybody else. She knows how these girls should talk because that’s how she talks. She knows how they feel, and what they worry about, because she’s had those feelings and worries. Despite that she stays away from social media herself, feeling that it distracts from her work.
She’s also keen to point out that despite containing politics, this is not a purely political play, and nor is it a serious one. Despite all the drama that can - and does - go on in a girls’ locker room, there’s also a lot of laughter, and it’s laughter which the audience is invited to join in with. It’s an inclusive laughter, too - men of all ages have been seen on the front row of the play as it’s been performed back in America, many of them moved to tears both by laughter and sorrow as the tale is told in full.
Ultimately, though, it’s about the Wolves of the tale themselves - the girl’s team. So don’t miss out on seeing them play at home.