In their first full scale musical, Traflagar Studios are giving Wolfboy, a hit from last years’ Edinburgh fringe its West End debut. Though given the backing track is pre recorded you do wonder if the Musicians Union would agree this is a full scale musical.
It’s a dark, disturbing piece, but then again any show that features attempted suicide, lycanthropy, incest and child abuse is never going to be musical comedy.
17 year old Bernie has been committed to a psychiatric hospital after attempting suicide. In the next room is another 17 year old, David, who thinks he has the powers of a wolf. Over the course of 85, interval free, minutes the show examines the burgeoning relationship between the two patients and the reasons why both are here.
Adapted from a play by Brad Fraser, Russell Labey and Leon Parris Wolfboy seems somewhat a work in progress and never fully satisfies. There are moments that work but many more elements need some attention.
Some of the problem lies with Parris’ score, although it has moments where melodies sore, overall the piece lacks variety or any real musical tension. Many of the musical themes recur throughout the piece and while this can work to establish mood, more variety is needed for this trick to work.
A second problem lies in the casting. First the good. As Bernie, Gregg Lowe delivers a performance that holds the attention throughout. We genuinely care and want to discover the inner demons that drove Bernie to such drastic action. Vocally Lowe shines, especially in duets with his brother, played (in the other strong piece of casting) by Daniel Boys. Boys is, as expected, vocally the strongest of the quartet but is underused in this production.
Sadly the other two roles are woefully miscast. Paul Holowaty as the lupine David struggles to reach many of the notes in the score and seems to lack the emotional torment needed for the character. Fellow Hollyoaks actress Emma Rigby as the non singing nurse, to be fair has little to do in the piece, but even in the intimate Studio 2 struggles to project and be heard.
There is potential here and Wolfboy is by no means a failure. With some more work on characters, score and the weak ending there is potential for a really dark and disturbing piece of work here but in its current form it is slightly disappointing.