Wolves at the Window
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 12, 2009
If you are familiar with the devilishly delightful stories of Saki (H.H. Munro) then you already know what a treat is in store for you at Wolves at the Window, a new offering from London's Arcola Theatre and Fledgling Theatre, now on stage at 59E59 as part of their annual Brits Off Broadway festival.
If, like me, you have not read Saki's work, well, you are lucky indeed! This charming new play is a splendid introduction to this very entertaining writer who had such singular senses of fun and humor, and you don't have to turn any pages to enjoy about a dozen of his signature tales: just sit back and relax.
These are stories that all have neat and clever twists; the kind that if I were to give away here, I would deserve to be flogged and whipped and shunned forever more by my readers. So all I will say is, the pieces that have been collected in this exquisite play include (among others) such subjects as a fine aristocratic British woman hunting tigers in India, a scientist who has figured out how to teach cats to speak, a young artist trying to win the hand of the daughter of a wily businessman, two old flames who meet up after years apart on an ocean voyage, and several young persons with vivid, wicked imaginations that are allowed free reign.
Toby Davies, the playwright who has gathered these tales and made them into a play, has done so ingeniously. Stories intertwine and wrap around themselves in unexpected ways; characters from something we heard or saw a while ago are likely to pop up later on where you least expect them to. Davies has left the works in their original period, roughly the first decade and a half of the last century. But though they are rooted to that Edwardian era, they are all defiantly timeless in their sensibility.
Thomas Hescott, the director, keeps the play moving briskly and brightly, with transitions between the various scenes and vignettes deftly handled. The style is essentially story theatre: minimal props, a few bits of furniture, and occasional changes in costume accessories are all that are needed to set the scene, be it a park bench, a crowded train car, a dangerous mittel-European forest, or a place where people hunt tigers in India.
All of the stories are told and enacted by four remarkable actors, Gus Brown, Jeremy Booth, Anna Francolini, and Sarah Moyle. They are all superb, transforming themselves in a variety of ways to play characters of different ages, classes, and stripes. Brown was my particular favorite, especially in the first segment, as a very clever fellow who knows a confidence trickster when he sees one, and later as a talking cat. But my companion was most struck by Sarah Moyle, whose roles include the tiger huntress and the cat's instructress. And you are just as likely to be enamored of Booth, who is at his best as a thrill-seeking child on a train, or Francolini, who spins some outlandish tales in the first act finale.
I had a grand time at Wolves at the Window, and recommend it to you without hesitation. It's storytelling at its very best. And what stories it has to tell!