On occasion, I feel the need for the cultural equivalent of a deep tissue sports massage, to iron out all those knotty prejudices and uncomfortably comfortable pre-conceptions acquired from too much staying at home in my chintzy echo chamber. Cue my fresh-faced arrival at a disgustingly fashionable venue, all set to see something with the words ‘experimental’, ‘daring’, and ‘not for the faint-hearted’, in its billing.
I approach with all the hope and enthusiasm of a Jehovah’s witness entering the Moulin Rouge. The venue, in this case, is the excellent Wardrobe Theatre, and my physio for the evening is to be Wildheart and Lyric’s production of Wolf Meat, which has, in its marketing, acquired all of the aforementioned pre-requisite designations, along with sundry others all its own. As I am ushered into the room by a man wearing a fake beard over his actual, and almost identical, beard, my fears are largely assuaged by his ebullient charm, which succeeds almost completely in masking my nerves from his casual mentions of ensuing audience participation.
I don’t think I stop laughing for more than twenty seconds of the hour long performance. The three ladies and one gentleman who make up the cast are all masters of physical comedy, and ride both the fast-paced text and occasional foray into the audience with wit and consummate timing. The writing is excellently sculpted to its purpose, the characters are engaging, memorable, and devotedly embodied, and the subject material is in turn hilarious, challenging, and socially aware on a level that belies its cosmetic absurdity.
The play followes a plot vaguely reminiscent of a film noir, but, en-route, challenges our pre-conceptions of pornography, mental health, body-images, and the significance of incest. It speaks with an elegance and vivacity that perfectly encapsulates the sort of erudition and visceral passion that is so important in experimental theatre – one must shout from one’s gut to the rooftops, but, in the absence of anything tangible to shout about, one just annoys everyone and make the dogs bark.
There are moments where the mayhem feels perhaps a little too chaotic, and it is sometimes not certain whether these social references, or the ramshackle hilarity are the true substance of the thing. That’s the problem with this wretched star grading system – It seems unfair to look always for a flawless performance, whatever that means, because it is likely that this production is never seeking perfection, and, arguably, would be much the lesser for it.
However, a play must offer its own context for judgement, and it isn’t entirely clear, in this instance, what that is. However, whether it is the occasionally incisive satire, or sheer joy in the exuberant pandemonium that provides the canvas, this was an exceptionally engaging, funny, intelligent, brave, and progressive production by an exceptionally talented cast that, while it may also doodle in the margins a little, ticks all the right boxes for new theatre. 4/5
Review written by James Adams.
Wolf Meat is currently showing at the Wardrobe Theatre until Saturday 25th February. For more information on the production, visit here…