Review: The Wolf From The Door, by Rory Mullarkey – at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Sophie Russell, Calvin Demba as Leo, Anna Chancellor as Catherine, Pearce Quigley. Photo Stephen Cummiskey

Sophie Russell, Calvin Demba as Leo, Anna Chancellor as Catherine, Pearce Quigley. Photo Stephen Cummiskey

Cards on the table and without ambiguity, I didn’t like Rory Mullarkey’s The Wolf From the Door. It’s been a while since I disliked a play in such comprehensive manner.  It wasn’t the lack of promise, quite the opposite. It starts with an idea that has meat on its bones: is apathy just a smoke screen? What will it take for middle england to take (decisive, surprising, violent) action? And would anyone notice if we were there already?

Except the play doesn’t go far: it imagines a situation where this would happen. Posh Lady Catherine picks up young drifter Leo on a train station. Any other woman would do it for sex but not her. She wants to anoint him ruler of the land. Everything is ready, the people are waiting. And blood will be spilt. Among the allotments and the supermarket alleys. Not so much Carnation Revolution but Revolution and flower arrangements.

Apart from a general feeling of disillusionment, there is no social insight. It seems middle england takes to arms for the lark of it. In that sense, this revolution is the other side of apathy. I do nothing while I want something, I do something while I want nothing.

The play isn’t faithful to its own internal logic: we are asked to believe regular people everywhere are on standby, ready for the uprising. But when (SPOILER) a supermarket manager is confronted and decapitated to the horror of his staff, there is no sense he was on the joke (yes it is a joke, from beginning to end). Did he miss the meetings? Is middle england eating its own flesh? I saw no acknowledgement of the irony.

I wasn’t convinced by the staging either. Director James Mcdonald works with a variety of approaches but the result felt largely disjointed and often awkward. Whenever there was an act of violence, the action would stop and the audience looked at an image on a screen. The effect was detaching, like none of this mattered. Later on we get a section where all four actors recite the text together. It was both obvious and flat.

The actors did a good job but performances seemed stifled: it’s no news Anna Chancellor can do posh with conviction and authority. She had interesting moments of subtlety and she can do arch coming timing with the best of them. Calvin Demba as Leo has a warm openness that added shape to the blankness of the character. Sophie Russell and Pearce Quigkey play a different role in every scene and do this brilliant thing actors do, when you stare in wonder at the transformation.

On paper, the play looks interesting. I mean it quite literally: when I opened the playtext, and looked through the sixteen brief acts, some of them written in distinct and unexpected styles, I felt more excited than I ever felt watching the production. On stage, it’s one joke multiplying in obvious ways. Can do better, will do better. Next time.

Update 24/9: Other opinions (far more positive, not to mention intelligent) are available: Andrew Haydon on The Wolf From The Door

3 responses to “Review: The Wolf From The Door, by Rory Mullarkey – at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

  1. Now I’m worried – I’m seeing this play next Thursday and I’ve been so excited! The idea of the play seems interesting, the casting is very good – and yet I’m reading another disappointed review…

    • Don’t get discouraged. There are definitely far more positive views around, I just added a link to Andrew Haydon’s blog post. It’s important to see it with an open mind and decide what you think. I have come to the conclusion that the things I love, I love despite their flaws and the things I hate, I hate despite their virtues. It doesn’t mean opinions are worthless but they are part of a dialogue, not ultimate judgement.

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