(reviewed at Felbrigg Hall as part of the 2015 Norfolk & Norwich Festival)
This Festival commission from Wild Works is an extraordinary piece of outdoor theatre. The story of Wolf’s Child is one as old as myth-making itself and suggests that odd love-hate, fear-acceptance relationship which two-legged mankind has probably always had with the four-legged animal kingdom. We use animals, often make pets of some of them but – however much we attempt anthropomorphism – we are not of the same species.
From fold tales rooted in the forests which once covered so much of the European mainland and islands through Perrault, Grimm and Andersen and Frazer to the modern re-tellers of these stories and many more, wolves in particular are seen as creatures hovering on the edge of domesticity imbued with something of the divine as well as the feral. This is what director Bill Mitchell has latched onto.
The audience is led on a two-hour journey through the forest as night falls through 12 stages of the story by a flock of crows who order, cajole and comment. At a building very like the Palladian façade of Felbrigg Hall itself we encounter a cross between a ladies’ seminary and a reformatory where Mother (Sue Hall) has the whip hand and her favourites. Hazel (Mae Voogd) is being demoted while Rowan (Kyla Goodey) is promoted in her place.
Rowan is sent into the forest a kill a wolf as a sort of rite-of-passage. Hazel tails here. Rowan encounters a man-best (Morgan Val Baker) and begins to realise that she is perhaps not quite as human as the girls among whom she was brought up. It’s more than mere animal instinct, even when her coupling results in Thorn (Ellie James).
The wolf pack begins to bring up Thorn, until Mother manages to secure her. But she returns to the forest in spite of the carrot-and-stick technique of the “civilisation” attempt. Tragedy ensues, but so does revenge. The crows lead us in our turn back to gravelled paths and a flood-lit house. it was all just a story…well, wasn’t it?
Music (Abbott), enhanced sound (helen Atkinson), flaring torches and blazing log fires punctuate the action of Dave McKean’s script. The large cast is effective in their larger-than-life costumes (Kate Munro and Myriddin Wannell are the main designers). It’s an occasion piece, of course and the National Trust property provides a perfect setting for it. Most myths have staying power. I’m just not completely sure about this one.
Wolf’s Child runs as Felbrigg Hall until 23 May.