It is a privilege to see any ‘work in progress’. As I said last year, a chance to look behind the curtain, be exposed to the creative process, and see the tentative early steps of new artists, producers, and authors. The Wives of Wolfgang is promoted as a work in progress in the 2016 Anywhere Festival program, but appears to be a production at an advanced stage in its development. 21 year-old Hannah Belanszky has set the bar high for the future if this is her first play.
Before I go any further yes, when you look at information on the venue, the production does take place in the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Fortitude Valley. Don’t go to the church hall next door—unless you want to help out at the Anglicare Pantry, or join the parishoners (on Wednesday, enthusiastically participating in a swing dance class). The 18th May première attracted a large ‘congregation’ of ‘mourners’—friends, family and strangers—who loved the show. Butit is worth mentioning that not everyone will be comfortable with seeing a church handed over to a production—particularly where one actor climbs up and over the pulpit, and others occasionally sit on the ‘coffin’ placed in front of the altar. Just bear in mind this is a play, and not a real funeral or memorial.
The production is described as being ‘co-devised’ by the three actors. This is no mean feat, and I was impressed with much of the blocking, the use of the space, and the careful attention to the needs of audience sitting in a church. The actors moved around and through the space to ensure that, for the majority of the performance, we had a clear view (for example, by standing on chairs, using the pulpit etc). However, there were moments when I felt that the team are ready to bring in a director—as a fourth collaborator, contributing to the further development of the piece.
Of course, there is a fourth presence on the ‘stage’; the ‘dear departed’ Wolfgang. As the Anywhere Festival information outlines: Dear Friends, Family, Colleagues, Acquaintances and Perfect Strangers, It is with great sorrow that we must inform you of the death of Wolfgang. Your presence at a memorial service in his honour is most humbly requested. A loving man, Wolfgang is survived by three former wives. They pray his soul will rest, somewhat, in peace. You may go with the expectation of a tussle between three competing loves, but may leave feeling that each is happy to leave him behind at the church.
All the best fairy tales combine a simple story with dark undertones. The production team describe the show as a merger of the real and imagined, of light and dark, and of poetry and everyday language. The technical team, including Daniel Endicott (lighting designer, Odyssey Entertainment), ensured we had light and dark, creating an atmospheric staging from the start: recorded organ music playing, with the red lights on the altar and coffin picking out the swirling dry ice ‘smoke.’ The script certainly delivered on occasional black humour and comedic cat references, the simple rhymes, and the real and imagined. However, by the end of the 45-minute show I was not convinced I’d shared in the interactions, thoughts, feelings and memories of three former wives. More, a chance to see into the minds of the three loves of Wolfgang— Winona (Hannah Belanszky), Wilhelmina (Paige Poulier) and Willow (Caitlin Hill). For me, the cat, the wife and the mistress. The three performers created distinct characters, each sharing their motivations for their relationship with Wolfgang. The first partner being a true cat in her independence (loving and leaving), the second settling for the ‘perfect’ life (where being a wife requires a certain amount of ‘blindness’ to her husband’s behaviour), and the third thinking that being a mistress is a route to long-term happiness with ‘BigBadWolf51.’
There were some great moments in the production. The cast worked well together, but for me the memorable moments were when each took centre stage. I particularly enjoyed the skilful enactment of the cats’ first meeting with Wolfgang—with her ‘acceptance’ of the collar she was prepared to wear for him, for a while—as well as the sheer fun of a cat-like prowling, scratching, and general independence. The second love, as the ‘perfect wife’ with the ‘perfect life’, had some of the best lines, which were delivered with relish and panache. I enjoyed her journey of self-realisation—even if I felt she was leaving merely to find the next man to mow the perfect lawn. And the trio was completed with a believable portrayal of the needy and desperate mistress.
As with all the best fairy tales, the big bad wolf is left behind. But don’t take my word for it… go along and see what you think.
Verdict: A great chance to see a work in progress—before the team are ready for a bigger stage (and higher ticket prices). The original plan to sell tickets at $20 was withdrawn. Tickets are free, with a ‘retiring collection’ donations box at the door.
Audience tip: If you are not comfortable with actors climbing on/over a pulpit, or occasionally sitting on a coffin in front of an altar in an Anglican church, then this may not be for you. There is some off-street parking and (if you arrive early enough) parking on the street.
The Wives of Wolfgang is a work-in-progress from Girl Who Cried Wolf Productions, with the support of Visible Inc and the Anywhere Festival.
The reviewer attended the 18th May performance. The show ends 21st May 2016. FREE Tickets are available at the Anywhere Festival website.