Revolutionary days are here again as the Royal Court Theatre’s artistic director Vicky Featherstone launches a new season based around the idea of resistance and uprisings with the much-anticipated The Wolf from the Door.
The play comes from the pen of the young James Mullarkey, a Royal Court favourite whose first play Cannibals walked off with the James Tait prize for outstanding new drama as well as a cool £10,000. This year, Featherstone commissioned a new work from him as reward for winning the Harold Pinter playwright prize and, even before it had been staged, The Wolf from the Door won the George Devine award.
It should be noted from the off that this play is not for everyone, not least because it features extreme violence, full frontal nudity and Brummie accents. The plot is also patently absurd but the decent cast do a fine job of papering over the cracks.
Anna Chancellor (who those of a certain vintage may know better as Duckface) plays the aristocratic firebrand Lady Catherine while Calvin Demba is her handsome and well-hung companion Leo. Like a female Garibaldi — the soldier not the biscuit — she travels around middle England with her dim-witted friend gathering support from a series of different hobbyists and preparing for an upcoming national insurrection.
Everywhere they go, Lady Catherine bumps into an array of friends and foes, all played by Sophie Russell and Pearce Quigley. In one case, she stops in at coffee mornings to speak to a flower-arranging bombmaker and a gun happy choirmaster (“I’ve had to plump for M16s for the altos because they have a tendency to get a bit flappy…the last thing they needed was an easily jammable firing mechanism.”). Joining the cause too are book club snipers, psychopathic morris men and a ukulele-toting commandos.
Catherine and Leo roll around the country like some cross between Bonnie and Clyde and Vladimir and Estragon. The ill-matched duo’s rollercoaster journey is a varied one, veering as it does from joyfully surrealism to existential ennui with occasional introspective interludes. A policewoman is shot dead, a Tesco manager is decapitated and Mullarkey throws in horrific stories of stoned servants and a man whose face is scraped off in a car accident. This is V for Vendetta played out as a road movie with that Fight Club speechstuck on repeat in the CD player.
Chancellor does best overall in the acting stakes but one would expect her to as she is no stranger to aristocracy. The daughter of the Honourable Mary Alice Joliffe (daughter of William Joliffe, 4th Baron Hylton), she is a great-great-granddaughter of former prime minister Herbert Asquith and, on her father’s side, a great-great-granddaughter of the 12th Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham, and therefore a descendant of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley.
This is a play which falls well below expectations with the standout segments of The Wolf from the Door swamped by the hackneyed tropes and unconvincing dialogue. The ultra-violence and gratuitous nudity sit uneasily alongside the more subtle attempts at philosophy and irony and the “Duckface and doofus” double act simply doesn’t gel until the very end. Ultimately, the script is certainly not as clever as it thinks it is.
The Wolf from the Door continues at the Royal Court Theatre until 1 November. Tickets are £20 except Mondays (£10). More information can be found on the official Royal Court Theatre website.