Hilary Bell’s play, which was first produced in 1996, was Bell’s response to cases like the murder of toddler James Bulger by two ten-year-olds and another case involving a four-year-old killed by a thirteen-year-old boy. It is not so much the unfathomable death of toddlers at the hands of children that is Bell’s chief focus. It is our response, as society, to these young killers- our outrage, our hatred, our condemnation to blame their parents or to quantify it by stating that some people are just ‘born evil’. Further to that is trying to recognise how the parents of those children who committed these crimes manoeuvre through the media and public backlash and try to come to terms with the implications, roles and responsibilities as parents amongst the tragedy.
It’s been sometime since ‘Wolf Lullaby’ was staged and so it was nice to see the New Theatre tackle this play. Directed by Emma Louise, there is integrity in this production that manages to find the tension in the dilemma and its relationships. Maryellen George was strong in the lead role as nine-year-old Lizzie Gael. Finding the childlike aspects of the character is a challenge for any adult actor but George was convincing in her playfulness, inquisitiveness and cheekiness.
Lucy Miller (as mother Angela Gael) and David Woodland (father Warren Gael) projected parents trying to do their best- fractured, fearful of the way ahead and the implications of their role as genetic creators and guardians of Lizzie. What does it mean now and in the future if they created this? Nature versus nurture debates abound as they step carefully around the minefield of public perception or try to profit from curious media scrutiny. Both Miller and Woodland were believable in their grief and confusion and their relationship had complexity and truth. Peter McAllum as Sergeant Ray Armstrong was part intimidation and part paternal in his portrayal, vacillating between wanting to condemn this child and protect her in the same action.
There are some nice touches to the set design from Allan Walpole and lighting designer Heidi Brosnan. The spirit of the wolf, shown at the end in the reflective paint and red hues that lie under our foundations, flashed with the sounds of heartbeats from designers Chelsea Reed and Alexander Tweedale, was a powerful metaphor for what lies under the surface for each and every one of us. As Warren states ‘..it was just games. All kids did it. You had to…But we stopped in time.” ‘Wolf Lullaby’ takes us past the point of what might happen if we didn’t stop in time. The visual and aural representation of the murky undergrowth of morality was a lovely finish to this play.
There are still moments when this production is finding its rhythm but it is a solid, faithful interpretation from a highly competent ensemble and they are invested in the text and its expression.
It’s worth a viewing.