Wolf Cub at Hampstead Theatre | Review

Delivered at a steady pace, Wolf Cub tells the story of Maxine (Clare Latham), in a first-person narrative. As ever, without the benefit of multiple perspectives, one is inclined to wonder how reliable a narrator Maxine is, but this is very much a personal story, even if it is not a tale I can relate to. To begin with, Maxine can barely be seen, hiding in a corner of the stage, with all the timidity of a child afraid of situations unusual to her. It almost naturally follows that as she gets ‘older’ (the story spans about fifteen years or so), there’s a corresponding growth in confidence.

Wolf Cub featuring Clare Latham © Robert Day.
Wolf Cub featuring Clare Latham © Robert Day.

References to the Reagan Administration and, in the closing moments, the 1994 Northridge earthquake, were useful, at least to a non-American audience. To an American audience they might perhaps have come across as somewhat tedious and unnecessary – perhaps some script adjustments were made for this London run. Maxine’s own name is not heard at all, such is her non-existent status in her family – she even tells a story about how, aged eleven, she went out and skinned a rabbit because her father forgot to feed her. Later, other characters have names, though if you really think her companions are actually called Big Man and Fast Track, that’s your prerogative.

That isn’t the only mysterious element of this story, in which Maxine, having been drawn into the Nicaraguan Revolution, faces a ‘survival of the fittest’ situation. There are primal instincts that Ché Walker’s script unsubtly draws from, likening Maxine’s decisions and thought processes to animal behaviour. Rather innocently, her recollection of events includes letting her father’s political views be known. Without giving too much away, they are hypocritical at worst and hilarious at best.

There’s something surreal and poetic about Maxine’s life story, elements of which could be interpreted as being supportive of female empowerment, particularly when she is placed in a position of authority in a male-dominant environment: “I got a crew working for me […] they actually f—ing love being bossed around by a woman”. But I doubt her life would have been a relative walk in the park had she been hypothetically male.

While there are some sound effects here and there, the show is heavily reliant on the art of storytelling. Thankfully, it’s not all exposition, and Latham skilfully glides her way through both sides of a conversation. The play bucks the trend of messing around with timelines, telling its story in forward chronological order: frankly, it was something of a blessed relief to hear a character announce they are twenty-four years old before they are thirteen. A bold and confident piece of theatre, this was an intriguing look at the life and times of the kind of person whose story isn’t told on stage often enough.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

1980s, America. Teenage Maxine has teenage problems. There’s moving from the Rural Southern states to Urban Los Angeles with her booze-sodden Dad, there’s high school, boys, drugs, murder, Nicaraguan Contras, CIA, the LA uprising, the Northridge Earthquake… Not for the faint-hearted or Ronald Reagan. Blazing through a turbulent coming of age, and now trapped in a country sick with injustice, Maxine’s eyes are yellow, her hands are claws and she has a howl desperate for release…

Blending poetic beauty with brutal honesty, Wolf Cub is a visceral odyssey written and directed by Ché Walker, performed by Clare Latham.

HAMPSTEAD DOWNSTAIRS / CELIA ATKIN PRESENT
WOLF CUB
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY CHÉ WALKER
Running time: 1 hour and 20 minutes without an interval

8 APR – 7 MAY 2022
https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/

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