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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Wolf Lullaby

A two-year-old boy is murdered and the main suspect is a little girl in a new horror-tragedy from acclaimed playwright Hilary Bell.
By Catherine McNamara
August 25, 2014
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Wolf Lullaby

A two-year-old boy is murdered and the main suspect is a little girl in a new horror-tragedy from acclaimed playwright Hilary Bell.
By Catherine McNamara
August 25, 2014
  shares
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Wolf Lullaby brings an Aussie murder story (by Hilary Bell) to the New Theatre, revealing impressive voice work by the actors, but a few of the small theatre’s limitations when exploring the horror genre. This production would make an incredible radio play. As it is, the macabre subject matter keeps the audience intrigued — a two-year-old boy is murdered and the main suspect is a little girl.

Far from the big budgets and sensory saturation of horror films, Wolf Lullaby still makes some outstanding choices. The set (designed by Allan Walpole) is cleverly divided into three parts: the cosy domestic space of the Gael family, with nostalgic Aussie rock blasting from the ‘wireless’, sits opposite the ordered space of the small town’s police office. A prison cell behind is either revealed or obscured by lighting. In the middle sits a graffiti wall and concrete slab (the exact shape of a small child’s coffin — an eerie reminder of the dead child), which is the scene of the murder.

It is here that young suspect Lizzie Gael (Maryellen George) struggles with night terrors, visions of ‘the wolf’ coming, and an ever-increasing tangle of lies and stories. The scenes shift between these three areas, generally with a blackout or sound cue as a diversion. The sheer number of these interchanges is a little jarring, both to story and character development. In moments when the characters are left quietly on stage in the near-dark, there is better dramatic flow, allowing us to connect to the characters and their dilemmas.

This is Emma Louise’s directorial debut at New Theatre and her expertise in voice training shines through. The clarity, quality and richness of the actors’ voices really make the play, with George providing a very convincing nine-year-old voice. However, casting an adult actor in the child’s role does reduce the fear factor of seeing an actual child capable of killing. This is the pay-off for the maturity needed for the role, and George finds a medium between over-exaggerated childish physicality and charming slumps to the floor.

Peter McAllum and David Woodland bring to life Sergeant Ray Armstrong and Warren Gael respectively as complex and sympathetic characters. The actual mystery of this murder mystery is revealed early, which leaves mother Angela Gael’s (Lucy Miller) internal struggle between her conscience and her maternal instinct as the play’s focus. Miller doesn’t always manage to communicate this emotional tug-of-war, sometimes seeming too detached.

Wolf Lullaby has some valuable questions to ask society: are some children born evil? Do we teach our children to lie when we use scare tactics as discipline? What about how we treat children with mental illness? Bell’s tragic murder story is timeless and this production is challenging and energetic.

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