“I can’t bear to put things in my mouth”
Wolfboy is a musical adapted from a play by Brad Fraser. The adaptation by Russell Labey and Leon Parris played at the Edinburgh Festival last year but now takes up residence in the Trafalgar Studios 2 for a month with a slightly different cast. 17 year old Bernie has been committed to a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt but shows little inclination for dealing with his issues which may or may not involve his older brother Christian his only remaining family, rather striking up a friendship with the inmate next door, David, who thinks he is a werewolf.
Generally speaking, this was a show where the sum of its parts sadly did not add up to anything greater, this was most obvious in the supporting performances. There was a bright showing from Emma Rigby as a dryly comedic nurse providing some much needed laughs and Daniel Boys was predictably vocally strong, but their characters didn’t feel fully integrated into the show: Rigby doesn’t sing a single song and Boys’ is often left singing to a doctor whom we never see.
Gregg Lowe as Bernie was the stronger of the leads for me, and his duets with Boys, playing his brother, were my favourite bits of the show, nice harmonies, interesting counterpoints, and voices that blended well together. Theirs was an intriguing relationship which developed grippingly throughout the show as the revelations started to flow and had the show focused more on this I feel it could have been stronger. But instead there’s David, the ‘wolfboy’ of the title, and instead we focus on the burgeoning relationship between these two, as they cling to each other as a means of surviving the hospital and dreaming of escape.
In itself this wasn’t a problem, but the connection felt under-developed to me, shifting from the initial intriguing homoerotic power struggle to something considerably more too easily. Paul Holowaty plays David with a nice manic energy but needs to watch that his physical performance doesn’t affect his pitching too much.
By and large, the soundscape fitted the mood of the piece quite well but the songs lacked variety and there wasn’t really a hint of a hummable tune. And it does seem a shame that even in a small 50-seater venue, the singers have to miked up. This provided its own issues, the sound balance wasn’t quite right but even this couldn’t hide the fact that the leads just weren’t singing loud enough, we were constantly straining to hear them, something which shouldn’t be necessary in as intimate a theatre as this.
Ultimately this is a show with grand ambition which doesn’t fulfil. It hits a number of key issues; mental illness, homosexuality, institutionalisation and a couple of others which I won’t reveal here, but deals with none of them satisfactorily seemingly them including for the shock value alone. Instead, we pursue a Wizard of Oz metaphor to death and resort to melodrama for a disappointing finale which flies in the face of the potential of the show.