If I had to summarise the entire attitude underpinning the production of Lewis Doherty’s Wolf, it would probably be ‘go big or go home’. It’s not a phrase you would associate with your standard one-man production, considering that such plays often focus on creating a personal connection with the audience to compensate for their inherent lack of scale. Wolf however trades intimacy for frantic fight scenes, extended car chases and the general kind of insanity you’d expect when you try to cram 30+ characters into a play that’s slightly less than an hour long. Going in, I couldn’t decide whether such ambition was laudable or just plain suicidal. Upon leaving, I was still undecided, though admittedly entertained.
Following an explosive opening that takes place in medias res, the play quickly shifts back in time to fill us in on the details. Detective Jay Walker is dead, and his ex-partner Patrick Wolf suspects that someone may be responsible. It’s hardly an original setup, though in this case that’s clearly intentional. Wolf, for all its neon-tinged visuals and ultra-violence is a comedy, parodying cyberpunk, film noir and 80s action movies. With that in mind, the story plays out pretty much exactly as you would expect: Wolf travels from den of ill repute to den of ill repute, beating up henchmen, getting into car chases and spouting one-liners all the way all whilst villainous stereotypes scheme from the side-lines.
Ultimately, Doherty’s performance is the greatest part of the production, though not quite in the way you would expect. His ability to switch rapidly between multiple characters is impressive, but even more so is his ability to vocalise sound effects. Everything, from the opening of a door, to the splatter of eyeballs being thrown against the floor is vocalised. Whilst this is often played with for comedic value, it helps build a surprisingly detailed sense of place. This, combined with Doherty’s own physical movements and neon lighting, all served to create a vivid image of whatever scene was taking place; no easy task when your only prop is a single chair.
The writing was mostly good: I often found that the funniest scenes were those that were played typically straight where the natural absurdity of the characters and the situation shone through regardless. By contrast, the scenes that attempted to draw attention to this absurdity more explicitly often fell flat. Furthermore, the fight scenes, unfortunately, felt awkward. The excellent synth music (which should be familiar to fans of Hotline Miami) does help add a sense of rhythm to these scenes but the play still never quite manages to make punching the air look convincing. Whilst the car chases managed to feel somewhat more visceral, it’s an unfortunate drawback for a production so otherwise steeped in style.
Wolf has its problems certainly, but it’s also one of the most ambitious productions I’ve seen in recent years. Combine that with a blistering pace and comedy that mostly hits the right notes and you have a recommendation from me.