‘Wolf Lullaby’ is a haunting play for adults, written by Australian playwright Hilary Bell whilst in her early thirties. Bell who writes for stage, radio, screen and musical theatre, has numerous awards, accolades and fellowship links with prestigious companies throughout the world.
A few years ago, Fremantle’s Deckchair Theatre presented Bell’s heartrending play, ‘Memmie Le Blanc’, again about a child growing up in tragic circumstances.
Despite being in the upper echelon of writers, Hilary is often described as generous and affable to community theatre. When one of the Old Mill actors took the expression ‘break a leg’ a little too far and damaged her knee, Hilary permitted modifications to the script to allow for the actor to use crutches, kindly stating that her scripts are ‘road maps awaiting life, rather than definitive’.
This confronting 105-minute presentation was based on an American girl, but it could just as easily have been based on James Bulger, murdered in the UK just before his third birthday.
This is the Old Mill Theatre Company’s latest production, with curtain-up in the Old Mill Theatre, Mends Street, South Perth at 8.00 pm each Thursday, Friday and Saturday until 15th August, with a 2.00 pm matinee on Sunday 9th August.
The simple set represents several locations. The hard flats, painted matte black (design Alida Chaney, Dylan James and built by Phil Barnett, Travis McCurry and Tim Prosser), provide the harsh atmosphere required. A large cut-out of a child’s rocking horse (Tim Prosser) filled the back wall, a constant reminder of poor Toby, the murdered child.
Other than a couple of chairs, the stark set comprised mainly of a Rubik’s box, which was slickly converted into a bed, wall and desk (Alan Markham’s ingenious work) by stage manager, Caroline Kaye.
John Woolrych’s clever lighting design (operator Alan O’Neill) has most of the set warmly lit, but with a steely cold beam of light on Lizzie.
The horrifying soundscape (designed Alida Chaney, Dylan James) was operated by Elizabeth McAskill.
The scene is of a typical sitting room in a remote Tasmanian home, a couple of weeks before Christmas. Nine-year-old Lizzie (Tessa Bevilacqua) is lying on the floor, drawing a picture and writing poetry. She eagerly shows her creation to her father, Warren (Dylan James) who nods, but he is busy having an acrimonious discussion with his ex-wife, Angie (Julia Hern). Lizzie, desperately seeking admiration for her artwork, then tries – unsuccessfully – to attract her mother’s attention. Lizzie’s little world is a lonely one, filled with nightmares.
A few days later, a two-year-old boy, Toby is found dead. Circumstances point to Lizzie. A visit from the caring police sergeant, Ray Armstrong (Dean McAskill), who is investigating the tragedy, throws doubt on Lizzie’s story, but is the poor child being wrongly accused?
The skilful writing and good solid direction (director Alida Chaney) creates some truly disquieting moments, as the cold attitude of the parents absorbed in their own petty squabbles, clash with the love seeking troubled child. The whole cast gave superb performances, packed with poignant, tear-jerking emotion. You could feel the audience desperately hoping that Lizzie would open up so that the truth could be released.
Tessa, in her first adult stage performance, has captured Lizzie’s innocent and withdrawn expressions perfectly – you really wanted to give the poor girl a big, desperately needed hug. The powerful deliveries by Julia and Dylan made you gasp at their disinterest in their child, and the subsequent confusion between loyalty and honesty.
The director has chosen a subtle delivery, which makes the disturbing atmosphere even more insidious and disturbing. A creepy and chilling play, presented by a first class team.
With adult themes the advice is ‘Not suitable for children under 15’, so not surprisingly the adjective ‘enjoyable’ is hardly suitable, but certainly this play is most admirable and highly recommended.