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Fledgling Productions
presents

Wolves at the Window

 

by Toby Davies
after Saki

 

Arcola Theatre

27th May to 21st June 2008

 

 

 

 

Couzens

A review byKirsty Harris for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

These short stories, based on the originals by the late 19th century writer Saki, paint a grotesque but unnervingly accurate picture of the darker side of human nature. Greed, lust, spite and probably all the other sins you care to count pop up at some point in the evening. Toby Davies had updated these from Saki’s macabre tales for a modern and highly satirically minded audience. One can see a similar tone to Davies’ work on the That Mitchell and Webb series’ for BBC TV and Radio 4, which is no bad thing. These shorts have all the wit and dark humour that makes those series so successful. What stands these out from the sketch format is the way the characters and action flow so seamlessly into one another; the stories appear to be painted with the same brush strokes – just being rearranged before our eyes.

The cast, directed by Thomas Hescott, work so fluidly together that they give the impression that they have worked as an ensemble for years. At times, the dialogue rattles about like a cannon ball let loose in a train carriage. They compliment each others’ comic timing perfectly, each knowing just when to pull out a witty response and just when to hold a moment for comic effect. The rolling delivery of lines and fluid movement from scene to scene and character to character creates a polished style but never seems too well rehearsed.

Gus Brown retains an air of knowledge slightly above the other members of the troupe through out the piece. This knowingness seems to underlay all the different characters he plays. Without needing to actually give a nod and a wink to the audience - we know that he knows we know. This idea of layers of knowledge and deceit are beautifully played out in a scene involving a wife, her ‘dog’, her frustrated husband and a gas canister – one of the comical highlights of the collection by far.

Anna Francolini is wonderfully grotesque without overplaying her array of roles. From the relative who tells the most horrific lies (to the point where her ghost story sends a visitor running from the house) to the seemingly dippy companion who eventually manages to turn things to her own advantage. Francolini works with the ‘turning’ of a character to show that even the most hapless of innocents has several greedy and selfish bones in their body. Jeremy Booth and Sarah Moyle provide more than robust and energetic performances that complete the company. Moyle’s gun-ho Woman Hunting for a Lion is particularly amusing in its strange familiarity, as is Booths money hungry, backstabbing cereal merchant who flogs tons of ‘Filboid Studge’ by advertising it as vigorously good for you but far from tasty. In fact, Wolves at the Window is worth seeing even if it is just to hear the line “I curse the day I ever spoke the words ‘Filboid Studge’!”

 The set, designed by Maureen Freedman, evokes the feeling that we are being told stories by a band of travelling performers who have gathered us together in a rickety barn for the pleasure. Cobwebs, strung light bulbs and a hotch-potch of properties that wouldn’t look out of place strapped to the back of a wagon all help to construct the episodic and spontaneous feel of Wolves at the Window. The props are gradually removed from the stage in the second act and this gently creates the impression that we are reaching the end of the night and will eventually be left with a nearly bare space and only our memories of the events to ponder over on the way home.

And uneasy pondering that would be. These are tales of the ugly side of humanity, usually the funnier side also. The most disturbing thing about the characters in Wolves at the Window is however grotesque they may seem to be they are not really so far from reality. They all take true and present elements of the audience and hold a warped mirror up to them. But there is hope, perhaps not in guaranteed salvation but in the ability to take darkness and turn it into light with such intelligent humour.

 

8:15pm Mon-Sat

£15/£10, Tuesdays Pay What You Can

www.arcolatheatre.com

020 7503 1646

 

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