The combination of excellent direction, design, script and acting creates a spectacle that we are compelled to watch.
Image by Bob Seary.
In an age when the media dissect violent deaths in egory detail, the murder of a child still evokes a visceral reaction in the general public. Much more difficult to stomach is when that child has been the victim of murder by another minor. Over 21 years ago the murder of British toddler Jamie Bulger made headlines throughout the world, as both press and public examined every possible factor that could lead to two ten-year-olds committing such a heinous crime. The act reportedly committed by nine-year-old Lizzie Gael in Wolf Lullaby draws several parallels with the real life Jamie Bulger story. The play itself, however, is far less one-sided than the stories we're normally privy to.
Wolf Lullaby opens in a cinematic fashion, with a haunting score and big ideas. Lizzie, full of attitude, skips around in centre stage, singing along to a lullaby with a cacophony of other unseen children's voices. The opening sequence allows us to admire the well designed set; director Emma Louise and set designer Allan Walpole have managed to include the story's very different key locations on the New Theatre stage, drawing a clear line between the events taking place in each, while maintaining a small-town feel. In the middle of all of this, somewhat delineating the line between home life and the police station, is a graffiti-covered wall emblazoned with the haunting words, 'I murder so that I may come back.' These set elements, coupled with the excellent sound design of Chelsea Reed and Alexander Tweedale, as well as the lighting of Heidi Brosnan, allow the characters to transition effortlessly between scenes.
The combination of excellent direction, production design, Hillary Bell's script and four top-notch actors creates a spectacle that we are compelled to watch and analyse for a long time after the evening ends. In real-life cases, such as that of Jamie Bulger, we are told of the psychopathic tendancies of the perpetrators, their troubled upbringings, or the violent television they watched, all the while being led to judge them as evil. Here, we watch Lizzie interact with her slightly self-absorbed, separated parents, or with Sergeant Armstrong. She is cheeky, often bored and seeking attention. She speaks frequently of the 'wolf' who consumes her, is afraid of the dark and suffers from nightmares which are sometimes depicted in a frighteningly vivid manner on stage. But it's difficult to believe that she is evil. Perhaps she has a psychiatric illness, or is possessed. Perhaps the events at 'the weeds', which leads to the death of a two-year-old, are a horrible mistake. As her parents, Warren and Angela, debate the common arguments of nature versus nurture, so too do the audience, with no clear answer to be found.
Maryellen George never falters as the believeable, troubled Lizzie and must be commended for the energy she brings to the role. Lucy Miller puts in a typically strong performance as the struggling mother, torn between her instincts and the desire for her child to be innocent. Miller and David Woodland ( Warren Gael) together make a great team as Lizzie's somewhat imperfect separated parents. Peter McAllum (Sergeant Ray Armstrong) embraces his role, combining the upright behaviours of a strong family man and cop striving for justice with his empathetic reactions towards destroying the life of a young girl.
The haunting ending, like the play, is ambiguous and dark, with the powerful final image of the pulsating graffiti wall searing into the audience. The lasting consequences for Lizzy and her family are devastating, but Bell's delicate script brings us to every point of view within the story, setting up events with the inevitability of a Greek Tragedy. This is a stirring performance of an excellent play.
Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars
By Hillary Bell
With: Maryellen George, Peter McAllum, Lucy Miller, David Woodland.
Directed by: Emma Louise
Set Designer: Allan Walpole
Lighting Designer: Heidi Brosnan
Sound Designer: Chelsea Reed, Alexander Tweedale
Costume Designer: Jennifer Post
Movement Consultant: Shondelle Pratt
Assistant Director: Martin Kelly
Production Manager: Martin Kelly
Stage Manager: Petra Vaculik
Assistant Stage Manager: Julieta Locane, Tania Marie Rickard
Lighting Operator: Ole Borch
Sound Operator: Jesse Ledesma
Production Photography: Bob Seary
New Theatre, Newtown
19 August- 13 September