For the fan of bargain theater, it’s hard to beat the upstairs space at the Royal Court: with every seat priced at £20, it’s right on the edge of “hey it didn’t cost that much so why not” for me (depending on employment circumstances: otherwise, there is still £10 Mondays). Pretty much everything I’ve seen here has been brand spanking new, so it really gets that theater addict blood pounding: is this going to be the amazing show I talk to my friends about for years? So far this year it’s given me a five star show and that’s more than enough to convince me to buy tickets to Wolf from the Door, which, with an approximately 90 minute running time, pretty much was ticking all of my boxes. Actually, this whole “no plays I’ve seen before” pledge I made this year has been working pretty well – I’m actually seeing shows that I’m excited about!
As this play is new and the description is a bit sparse, here’s a (mostly spoiler free) synopsis: a strange young drifter (Leo – Calvin Demba) connects with a much older woman (Lady Catherine – Anna Chancellor), whose attraction to him seems highly suspicous. (In fact, the scene where they meet seems so wholly divorced from the social contract that I thought he might just bludgeon her to death right there. What does happen is far less believable.) She is a Woman On A Mission, and Leo is an integral part of the world she is trying to bring to life. And, for some reason, he goes along with it.
And now for spoilers. While “the total destruction of society as we know it” seems like an unlikely outcome for nearly anything other than ineradicable disease or war, this play was able to convince that the goals that Lady Catherine was trying to accomplish were possible, in part because the whole production had an aura of surreality (the projected and announced titles and violence; the extremely simplified set; the constant reuse of two other fairly recognizable actors in the many varied roles). But also the regular banality of the discussions kept things feeling fairly here and now: discussions about what to eat; a bank manager helping a client; the interminably long scene in a minicab that had me checking my watch.
However, I found the idea that Lady Catherine would really have roused people to do what she said unbelievable; and the motivations of Leo were nonexistent. He wasn’t supposed to entirely be real, as he was a person who claimed to not need to eat or sleep; but I couldn’t believe he would accept the role Catherine intended for him, or indeed most of the things she wanted him to do, with such utter passivity. She also constantly treated him like a servant, which I found a bit gross but also a point that weakened her character’s believability. So, while, ultimately, I was reasonably engrossed in watching this completely bizarre dystopia build itself in front of my eyes, I simply was unable to believe in it enough to get truly emotionally involved. It was Science Fiction Theater but without the beautiful cinematography or deeper commentary on what makes us tick as people. So while I felt like I got my money out of it and I know some people will enjoy it, I can only recommend it to the really hard core theater fans – or maybe people who like German style theater or dystopian lit. But it did get me out the door at 9:10 and that is always a positive.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, September 11th, 2014. It continues through November 1st. It’s mostly sold out but really that’s no reason to fret.)