Saturday, February 20, 2021

WOLF LULLABY by Hilary Bell

Rachel Pengilly (Lizzie) - Natasha Vickery (Angela)

Directed by Jordan Best for Echo Theatre.

The Q, Queanbeyan – 18th to 27th February.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

James Bulger was a two-year-old British boy who in 1993 was lured away from a shopping centre and murdered by two ten-year-old boys. Hilary Bell’s “Wolf Lullaby” written just three years later revives recollections of this event by investigating the phenomenon of children who kill children.
Rachel Pengilly as Lizzie

Bell's play is set around a nine-year-old girl, Lizzie, convincingly portrayed by Rachel Pengilly in a carefully judged performance which keeps the audience guessing throughout the play. Lizzie is among a group of children who discover the body of a baby boy while playing in the local park. As the inevitable investigation progresses it becomes evident that Lizzie knows more about the circumstances of the baby’s death than she’s prepared to admit.

Rachel Pengilly (Lizzie) - Natasha Vickery (Angela) - Joel Horwood (Warren)
  Craig Alexander (Ray)

During questioning from her estranged parents Angela (Natasha Vickery) and Warren (Joel Horwood), who despite being separated maintain a friendly relationship, Lizzie denies all knowledge of the baby’s death, but as more evidence comes to light, Angela and Warren begin to doubt her denials.

Further questioning by the local policeman, Ray (Craig Alexander) begins to reveal Lizzie’s dark imagination, throwing the relationship of her parents into turmoil and they begin questioning themselves and each other and especially Ray’s style of questioning as he tries to manoeuvre Lizzie into admitting guilt. 

The fascination of Bell’s play is that while the characters are interrogating each other each member of the audience finds itself coerced into examining its own responses should it find itself in such a situation. 

Jordan Best’s production is tight and efficient. Her casting is excellent and each of her actors provide strong, compelling performances. Chris Zuber’s stripped back setting, together with the dramatic lighting by Jacob Aquilina, provides sufficient atmosphere to inform the audience of the many changes of time and place. 

Therefore, given these many changes demanded by the script it was surprising that a more imaginative solution wasn’t arrived at than the frequent blackouts which interrupt the action, destroying not only the pacing of play but also audience concentration, especially as the actors, sometimes costumed in pale colours and clearly visible moving into position often appeared to be waiting for Matthew Webster’s excellent atmospheric soundscapes to run their course.

Nevertheless, this is a commendable production by Echo Theatre of a compelling play which throws light on a situation which would be every parent’s worst nightmare, and recommended for anyone seeking an entertaining and thought provoking evening of fine theatre.

                                                     Images by Cathy Breen 

This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.