In a psychiatric ward, two troubled boys lie a wall apart from one another. A nurse struggles to find salvation working in such a harrowing setting, while a handsome brother hides secrets that threaten to destroy the lives around him.
Leon Parris’s dark and deeply disturbing musical is part horror story, part psychological drama and part homoerotic tale. Set to a score that flits from soft childish dreamlike sequences to hard, rock guitars, Wolfboy is not an experience that will sit comfortably with audiences.
After a failed suicide attempt, cocky Bernie (Gregg Lowe) ends up in a room next to David (Paul Holowaty), a fellow 17-year-old living in an altered reality where he has the powers of a wolf, bestowed on him by the bite of an older man in a seedy tale of emotional manipulation.
Looked after by the perky Cherry – played by an impressive Emma Rigby making her stage debut – who makes up for what she lacks in professionalism with genuine empathy, the boys react to their incarceration in different ways. Bernie refuses to speak or eat and David bites and snarls, leading to restraints and muzzles.
Seemingly acting out of care and love for Bernie, his younger brother, the ironically named Christian – played by Daniel Boys, whose stage presence and voice is streets ahead of his other less experienced colleagues – exists in a world of torment and lies as he desperately tries to work out the right thing to say to his broken brother.
Based on a play by Brad Fraser, the story is not one that can be watched lightly. Bernie and David – played with frightening intensity by Lowe and Holowaty – are products of their messed-up upbringings. Finding affection the only way they know how, they dance around one another in a dangerous game of manipulation and sexual abuse with the production erotically charged throughout.
Given the subject matter, the musical is sufficiently dramatic, sometimes bordering on soap opera melodrama that seems to fit the emotional rollercoaster of a score.
Sitting in the awkward space between sung-through musical and play with songs, Wolfboy is not an easy night at the theatre and won’t be for all. However, if you like your theatre dramatic and are not squeamish about blood or no-holds-barred songs, then this dark musical just might be for you.