The Wolves is a raw and poignant exploration of female adolescence
Set among soccer pitch escapades, Belvoir’s production of The Wolves offered a beautifully uncensored look into the chaos and confusion that is female adolescence. Teaming up against each other yet ultimately coming together, a naïve but courageous soccer team of 16 year old girls must navigate the world of growing up – a world that is both exciting and scary, and unfortunately inevitable. This production was powerful in its refreshing realism. Each character brought their own flawed and complex set of traits – whether that was crippling social anxiety, insecurity feigned as over-confidence, or a frightening dose of ignorance. Rather than sugar-coat the messy reality of adolescence, writer Sarah Delappe boldly portrayed a flawed yet evolving team of young girls.
The play opens with a hilariously executed, yet cringingly ignorant, conversation about the Khmer Rouge. The naivety and ignorance of adolescence is on display – a time of continued learning but when expectations to know all loom ever stronger. “But, like, don’t you think it’s wrong to kill him?” one of the girls remarks about dictator Pol Pot. Of course, such a bold statement could never be left unaddressed, and in a hilarious back-and-forth the girls argue and contradict themselves in a fight to feel confident at a time in which uncertainty reigns supreme. Abusive language, dismissiveness and fervent agreement all characterise the girls’ conversations with each other, in a complex portrayal of female adolescent friendships. Nothing is left unsaid as the play delves unapologetically into the deepest recesses of the girls’ minds.
During the repartee between the nine girls, the team rhythm provides an ideal playing ground. Bouncing off of each other, literally and metaphorically, the soccer team is a microcosm of the conflicting and complex social field the girls must enter. As the ball is passed around the set, constructed to resemble a soccer pitch so too are the girls’ innermost thoughts and anxieties. Where anxiety is pronounced, the rhythm is halted or a new style of play forms, visually representing the body and mind’s intrinsic connection. In a swift movement they all stop passing the ball as no.46 informs the team that she lives in a yurt, and thus highlighting the cultural dissonance amongst a team of sheltered American girls.
While the production is powerful in portraying adolescent ignorance, the unique context of an all-girls soccer team also fosters an insightful feminist narrative. Confined to speaking among themselves, the girls are liberated in their discourse and actions. The girls’ crude humour as they make jokes about their periods, gyrate and grind on one another and make inappropriate gestures, is more than just comical adolescent immaturity. Delappe’s script effortlessly gestures to female bodily and sexual autonomy through the young girls’ unrestricted engagement in crude humour. Yet again, the rhythmic movement of the play allows for bold self-expression, which accompanies the girls’ liberated questioning and conversational exploration of their physical bodies.
What is most impressive is the play’s ability to maintain its rhythm while introducing a raw moment of self-development. Originally shown at The Old Fitz, the second round of development prior to the play’s current staging has made the production all the more fluid. Even as the girls must confront the tragic death of one of their teammates, pockets of ignorance, self-consciousness and pride continue to characterise their attitudes. Team captain no.25, played by young Australian talent Brenna Harding, remains proudly stoic as she gathers a huddle; while the naively confident no.7, played by Cece Peters, makes a touching entrance as she attempts to hide her emotional vulnerability, all exposed to the audience. Nevertheless, it is clear that the girls realise their reliance on each other, and are less willing to take their friendships for granted. In this moment of maturity, however, there is no forced conclusion. Rather, the girls have simply experienced adversity, and in doing so, have been forced to mature as adolescents are expected to. There is no grand gesture to completed wisdom or total self-development, but rather a group of once-naïve girls are quietly exposed to the difficulties of adult life; and perhaps this raw exploration is what makes the play so powerful.
The Wolves continues until March 3.