Wolf Lullaby. By Hilary Bell. Directed by Jordan Best. Echo Theatre. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. Until February 27. Bookings: theq.net.au or 026285 6290.
Echo Theatre makes a triumphant return in 2021 with artistic director Jordan Best's powerful and compelling production of Hillary Bell's disturbing and provocative Wolf Lullaby.
A toddler's body is discovered near a railway line on the outskirts of a remote Tasmanian town. Suspicion falls on nine-year-old Lizzie (Rachel Pengilly).
Every parent's worst nightmare strikes at the core of playwright Hilary Bell's enquiry. Who killed two-and-a-half-year-old Toby? It is the question that Lizzie's parents Angela (Natasha Vickery) and Warren (Joel Horwood) fear to ask. It is a question that drives the policeman Ray (Craig Alexander) to discover the truth.
Bell's drama, written in short scenes, presents tantalising hypothesis and chilling supposition. Best and her four professional actors, in deference to Bell's direct and intelligent text, adroitly avoid the pitfall of gratuitous violence and plodding detective work.
In the tradition of Greek tragedy the infanticide occurs offstage, allowing actors and audience to participate in psychological investigation and analysis.
Bell's opening scene displays a normal family - Angela cutting Warren's hair as he reads a paper while a bubbling, happy Lizzie chatters on.
Pengilly's performance of young Lizzie is mesmerising, charting a child's journey from innocence to bewilderment, delusion and terror.
Could the child gleefully ripping the paper off a Christmas present be capable of murder and writing an ominous message upon a wall?
Could a nine year old who plays with a yo-yo, hugs her doll and runs to her mother for cuddles commit so horrible a crime?
"Children get killed all the time," Ray tells Angela at a a time when the mother struggles with the guilt of bringing her child to the police.
Every performance in this production rings with authenticity. Vickery's Angela is heart-wrenchingly bedevilled by suspicion and anguish.
Horwood is the bewildered father, ill-equipped to respond to Lizzie's behaviour or the seemingly irrational outbursts of the mother of his child.
Alexander, in an intriguing departure from many previous roles that he has played, gives a wonderfully understated performance of an empathetic, yet increasingly frustrated country copper.
Best and her team ensure an audience's engagement with 90 minutes of intense, soul-searching enquiry, singularly focused on Chris Zuber's simple encaged design, and drawn into the atmospheric creation of Matthew Webster's sound design and composition and Jacob Aquilina's mood-setting lighting.
Although appropriately haunting, the occasional use of disembodied voices lacked clarity and sounded muffled and mostly indistinct.
In the search for the truth, Echo Theatre's production of Wolf Lullaby has offered audiences an honest and absorbing production of Bell's timeless and poignantly relevant play.
We are left, not with "whodunit", but who or what was responsible. Was it Toby's behaviour or his parents' lack of supervision? Was it that mythical demon of European folklore, the fanged wolf of Lizzie's imagination, or an evil that was embedded in a young girl's DNA from birth?
The questions linger long after attending a finely crafted and enthralling production.
Don't let the subject matter dissuade you. This is a welcome return to theatre at The Q and should not be missed.