This strange and striking debut play stars Sophie Melville and Erin Doherty as twins adrift in a fantastical care system
In Ross Willis’s emotive, strange debut play, a newborn pair of twin girls slither and kick their way into a world that doesn’t know what to do with them. So they’re separated. One is raised by a ‘soggy lady’ who soaks in the tub all day, too depressed to care for her. The other one is raised by a she-wolf in a forest of rehomed children. ‘Wolfie’ uses its own feral language to howl out the pain of kids who get failed by Britain’s care system, and it’s powerful and mystifying by turns.
The central twins in Lisa Spirling’s production are played by Sophie Melville (star of ‘Iphigenia in Splott’) and Erin Doherty; they’re both fascinatingly good actors, and it’s a joy to see them in Theatre503’s intimate space, which has been transformed into a kind of space-womb by designer Basia Binkowska. Round mirrors sparkle from its walls, and Melville and Doherty leap across it in brightly coloured boiler-suits, deftly handling this text’s sudden shifts of location and tone.
Its best moments use surreal images to capture something real. Brenda, who works in a hard times charity, literally cuts out her kidney and throws it at one of the twins, in a gorily vivid metaphor for middle-class guilt. Or when a mega-obsessive doting mother gets high by snorting her own child’s powdered milk teeth. Other parts feel a bit more opaque. The foster system is imagined as a forest where kids are raised by owls or bees or foxes, as overseen by the lofty, compassionless trees. It’s hilarious, but its whimsical enviro-satire paints the world of fostering as impossibly far away from the ‘real world’, when foster parents are just as human as birth ones. And even though they’re thickly coated in woodland whimsy, the beats of this story’s birth-to-adulthood narrative can feel a bit familiar.
Still, even if it’s rough hewn and uneven in places, the forest world of ‘Wolfie’ makes room for so many moments of real, felt pain. It shows the desolation of being a child adrift in a care system that deals in abstracts, providing oxygen and shelter but not the real security that only a loving, consistent support network of friends and family can bring. And it’s full of constant ‘Mighty Boosh’-esque doses of weirdness that stop its ideas about the sparkliness of love from getting too mawkish; moments of heartbreak fall heavily in this gut-flinging, glitter-coated forest.