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  • Henry Longstaff

Wolf Cub - Hampstead Theatre

The fault lines of America are shifting


1980s America - The Reagan revolution, the rise of populist conservatism and the Iran Contra affair are the setting for Ché Walker’s latest play. Wolf Cub charts the stormy coming of age of Maxine, a white, working-class girl in Reagan’s America. It charts her disturbed childhood, seeing her father kill her mother’s partner and her skinning a rabbit that is still breathing, through to her heavy involvement in cocaine production. All of this happens whilst Maxine has visions of wolves that speak to her and allow her to have wolf-like qualities that keep her prowling through life.

Walker has crafted a dark and disturbing play that holds no punches when it comes to detail but remarkably is packed with humour and highly engaging. The language and dialogue are beautifully naturalistic and at the same time highly quotable and precise without feeling forced. This sets the platform for Clare Latham as Maxine to truly flourish. No wonder Ché Walker persuaded Latham to come across the pond to join this production; she is sensational. Being the only actor in a play is, of course, a challenge but Latham made it look easy. She effortlessly moved between characters with pacing and delivery that is exquisite. Every line is expressed with huge varieties in intention and delivery but each is sculpted to imbue the most impact and character possible - truly a masterclass. Can someone please persuade her to stay over here, because I can’t wait to see what she does next?

Accompanying the performance was some stellar design work from Amy Jane Cook. Considering this was a production in a studio space, Cook had no right to create such an impressive and clever design, but I am delighted she did. It is rare to see a studio piece with such high calibre work, so designers take note of what Cook has shown is possible. The stage is framed in a large road sign for Los Angeles that has been punctured by a highway, cracking due to a literal fault line that opens up into a wooded area behind. This meant Latham had a varied landscape to play in whilst telling Maxine’s story. The set was lit by a strong and subtle design from Bethany Gupwell, who along with John Leonard’s sound design worked in harmony with the performance. The multi-talented and now second-time Olivier Award winner Sheila Atim takes up the mantle of composer and delivers a quality musical backdrop.

There are few criticisms to be made about Wolf Cub, though I do question whether the wolf themes and analogies of the play were honestly necessary to tell the story. It may have been simpler to do without and keep the piece more grounded but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Walker, Latham and company have seriously delivered in the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, and for 80 minutes, they had an audience captivated. This is a brilliant and delicately devised play that is particularly perfect if you are looking to branch out into seeing smaller-scale shows that still pack a punch - trust me, you are in safe hands with this one.

It runs until 7 May.

Photos: Robert Day

Originally Published by London Theatre Reviews

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