It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to see the great performances by the final year actors at the University of Northampton again; one of the many treats which we’ve all missed out on due to the wretched COVID. This year they have three productions for us, each with two performances, all performed on the mighty stage in the Derngate auditorium.
And the first is The Wolves, Sarah DeLappe’s play that was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Set somewhere in the United States, nine teenage girls play for The Wolves soccer team, each of them only identified by the number or position in which they play. We see their fitness warm-ups, stretching exercises, team talks, private anxieties, public dramas, jealousies, fights and all the angsts that you would imagine nine teenage girls would share between themselves. As the season – and the drama – progresses, ambition turns to fury which turns into tragedy, and in the final scene the girls are left to pick up the pieces despite an awful event which leaves them stunned. Nevertheless, they play on; and although this is a relatively short play – 75 minutes – all human life is there, and it’s not only a great slice of life experience, but a perfect choice to showcase the cast’s excellent talents.
Director Nadia Papachronopoulou has created a superb ensemble team who interact with each other seamlessly. The exercise routines are choreographed precisely and performed with immaculate timing – it’s incredibly entertaining to watch the players move from exercise to exercise as if it were second nature, never having to reference what element of their routine comes next. The overlapping dialogues, where two or even three conversations might take place between the players all at the same time, are delivered with equal accuracy and clarity. Kicking footballs on stage is a potential nightmare – one false move and you could take out the front row – but the football passing is done with great control and accuracy yet still gives the impression of “proper playing” – so that’s a terrific achievement. And the individual cast members bring out all the humour and sadness from their characters’ personalities – to the extent that it doesn’t matter that (for the most part) we don’t know their names.
I can’t name everyone in the cast, but some performances really stand out. Nadine Hamilton is brilliant as the sassy striker #7, totally self-assured, delivering her wisecracks and derisory asides with terrific comic timing; and her performance builds to a savage but highly credible argument followed by a beautifully emotional climax. Ali Paterson also gives a strong performance as the team captain #25, conveying superbly how difficult it is to tread that fine line between being one of the girls but also the boss.
I really enjoyed the performance of Robyn Isabelle Edwards as new girl #46, taking us on her character’s journey from being the outsider who won’t be let into the team huddles, to being the insider who gains the respect of the others by her sporting ability. There’s an excellent scene where she rounds on the rest of the team for taking the mickey out of where she lives; not only does it show how the use of mocking language can be hurtful, it also strongly depicts how fragile mental health can be. The audience is on her side from the start, and you really will her on to succeed despite the cruelty of the others.
There’s a hugely enjoyable performance from Andrea Muresanu as the questioning and analytical #11, dourly refusing to accept factual inaccuracies, and delivering her nuggets of observation with a beautiful feel for the throwaway line. I loved Shaye Thompson’s characterisation of #8, enthusiastically channelling a Legally Blonde-like omigodyouguys attitude, and Kristina Luksha is both funny and emotional as the perpetually throwing up goalie #00. But everyone puts in a terrific performance and it’s a testament to the enjoyment of the show that those 75 minutes absolutely fly by. Great work from the whole team – they definitely deserve to win the league!