Writer: Ross Willis
Director: Lisa Spirling
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
A fairytale is written as an educational tool for kids – helping the storyteller ensure they learn the desired social, cultural and moral lessons in an easy format. So, Hansel and Gretel tell us not to go into creepy people’s houses. The key point to them is that they change from place to place and time to time – the cultural value of Sleeping Beauty (sit there and look pretty until a man comes to rescue you) is, for example, not one generally applicable to today.
Ross Willis has taken the recognisable traditions and tropes of fairytale storytelling and turned them into a vibrant, clean tool to detail a clear contemporary threat to children. Wolfie tells us about the Skarkey twins, taking us from the introduction to them in-utero through adolescence and young adulthood. After being taken from their mother immediately at birth, one is adopted and the other taken to the woods to be shot. A wolf eats the would be father, would be murderer and takes in the little girl left on the ground. One twin grows up feral and wild, the other unloved by a depressed adoptive mother – we’re shown the complex effects on each girl in heartbreaking detail.
Ross’ writing paints us an incredible world – of hearts and eyes sparkling with love, of trees performing admin, of woodpeckers checking up on humans. For the child raised by wolves, we see the legacy of that feral fostered life – the supposed stability and the altered psyche clashing monstrously when the care period ends. For the adopted child with a depressive mother we see her brilliance dimmed by a lack of sparkle, her hesitancy in loving anyone else including her own children and her nervousness about life.
One of the special things about this forceful work is the opportunity to see and hear kids speaking intelligibly intelligently event. The performance talks to kids, not down to kids. The least subtle slap in the whole piece is the perfect illustration that the world is either not listening to or just plainly misunderstanding its youth It is, really, a showcase of terrifying honesty about the emotional experience of fostering, adoption, the social care system as a child and support system as an adult.
There is not a single moment of laziness in the whole production. The two actors charged with bringing it to life, Erin Doherty and Sophie Melville, do so with pounding, frantic energy and alacrity. They inhabit their characters, wear them elegantly and bend the world to fit the shape they need to make to tell this story. Through Basia Bińkowska’s simple but impactful set design, Rajiv Pattani’s engaging lighting and the vibrant movement Belinda Lee Chapman designed for the show the audience is fully immersed in the experience. Combining everything under Lisa Spirling’s direction makes the small Theatre 503 space bounce with energy and bristle with sadness at how these two girls have lived.
It sparkles. It is saddening but revelatory. It’s an indictment of the care system, and an incredible bit of work from a debut writer. Ultimately, it’s educational, memorable, and encourages anyone who sees it to try to be a better human.
Runs until 13 April 2019 | Image: Helen Murray