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It's game on in this lively study of female adolescence


A cast of young Adelaide performers are honing their ball skills alongside their acting talents in a Pulitzer-nominated play that sees a girls’ soccer team discussing everything from love to global politics during its weekly warm-ups.

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The Wolves, written by American playwright Sarah DeLappe, is described as a “sharply funny” examination of female adolescence and has earned numerous accolades – including being names as a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama – since it premiered Off-Broadway three years ago.

It is the final work for the year being presented by independent Adelaide theatre company Rumpus, which is transforming its Bowden black box theatre space into a soccer pitch for the production.

SA actor Elizabeth Hay, who is making her directorial debut with The Wolves, explains how the play offers a glimpse of the private world of adolescent girls and smashes stereotypes along the way.

You’ve described The Wolves as an incredibly special play – what in particular made you want to bring it to the stage in Adelaide?

Part of what immediately attracted Rebecca Mayo (performer and producer) and I to this play was the fact that it has such a large cast of women. I certainly have never been part of an ensemble like this, and I don’t think anyone in the cast has, either.

This play has been produced so many times around the world, which is testament to the fact that Sarah DeLappe has written something that we are craving as female-identifying artists. It’s time Adelaide had a turn.

How would you describe the storyline for those unfamiliar with the play?

The play centres around a girls’ indoor soccer team and is set over six weeks in suburban America. Each scene takes place during the warm-up before a game. There is sense that these girls can talk about anything from the safety of their warm-up circle.

That’s all I’ll say for now… I don’t want to spoil the ending!

What type of topics and issues are raised through the private conversations of the teenage girls at the centre of the story?

The play begins with an in-depth exploration of the atrocities in Cambodia and the complexities of executing [Khmer Rouge senior leader] Nuon Chea, alongside a conversation about using a pad for the first time. They speak about a homework assignment, about the Armenian genocide and plans for the weekend, among other things. They are thinking about college applications and, of course, winning soccer games.

A review of a New York production of The Wolves said that at times the performance brought to mind “a nine-headed hydra, rushing at you on a stream of exploding hormones”. Does that resonate with you at all?

I think Sarah DeLappe has been careful not to represent teenage girls as we might normally see them on stage or screen. These girls aren’t monstrous, but the dialogue does come thick and fast. They are all dressed in the same soccer uniform, so while it may seem that they are a nine-headed, one-bodied creature, they are all very different, as the audience will discover when they see the show.

Does the play also challenge stereotypes or preconceptions about the lives and concerns of adolescent girls?

Sometimes it seems like we as a society have a fear of teenage girls, like they are a mystery we can’t possibly understand, and I think DeLappe is smashing that stereotype. Teenage girls are powerful.

The Wolves lets us have a glimpse at the complexities of these relationships and conversations, and the girls navigating their way in the world. They have their own rhythm and it does feel like a private world.

If you’re not fluent in teenage girl, you will be by the end of the play. We have both cringed and squealed with delight at remembering our teenage years during rehearsals.

Actors run training drills and learn ball skills during rehearsals. Photo: Jordan Archer

I understand that the black box theatre is being transformed into an indoor soccer pitch for the Adelaide show, and that you’ve got a movement choreographer on the team … so how are the actors’ ball skills coming along?

The soccer skills are incredible! I am so impressed with the dedication of the actors. Within the group, we have actors who had never even touched a soccer ball before starting rehearsals, to one who had played professional-level soccer.

We had soccer balls in the rehearsal room from day one, and we work basic ball skills and drills daily. My aim was to get the cast comfortable with a soccer ball as soon as possible, so that a ball on stage in front of an audience will be no big deal. Everybody is looking very good.

Ruth Fallon, our movement consultant, is a performer herself, and is really good at getting actors to use their bodies in a way that is sustainable. We need to ensure that the cast are able to repeat the choreography night after night, with precision and without injury.

What ultimately makes The Wolves a must-see for Adelaide audiences?

This is an essential story and one we don’t get to see often/ever.

The Wolves has always been an ambitious project for us. Among the stellar cast, we have exciting emerging actors performing alongside favourites of the stage.

The way that designer Meg Wilson has constructed a world where we truly feel like we are on The Wolves’ turf is truly remarkable, and Antoine Jelk’s trademark sound design is edgy and fun. The entire team is destined for big things, so I feel really lucky to have them on my side as I make my directorial debut.

Plus, if you haven’t already visited the space at Rumpus, this is your final opportunity for the year to do so! It really is an exciting and much-needed space for independent theatre.

Rumpus is presenting The Wolves at its black box theatre space, 100 Sixth Street, Bowden, from December 4-15.

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