Laura Careless’ solo show, inspired by the book and BBC series of the same name by Helen Castor, is an intricate, forceful and nuanced production examining the life of five different pre-Elizabethan English queens. It impressively conveys a wide range of characters and their different experiences in a compelling exploration of women in power at a time where that was almost unheard of.
Absorbing and slightly feral look at a series of female medieval rulers
The piece shifts genre; incorporating dance, storytelling, music and projection, all woven together. Each of the five wolves is a collaboration with a different specialist, including vocalists and artists, with illustrations reminiscent of heraldry; this makes them all feel unique and individual, whilst also part of a cohesive whole.
The characters are familiar enough to be recognisable from history and unique enough to feel like fresh, radically relevant interpretations for today. Margaret of Anjou - now with renewed fame for being for being the inspiration behind Cersei Lannister - is shown during a civil war, having a particularly bloody and terrifying scramble to keep herself and son alive. Whereas Bloody Mary (Mary I) is shown quite softly; a force of resistance against the symptoms of being voiceless for so long, suffering but still continuing on.
Careless makes clever use of a box of tricks filled with a collection of beautiful costumes and some truly regal capes. She is an captivating performer, her movement, channeling a controlled energy. Careless carries the piece smoothly from each different moment, from dance, to singing, to acting and back again. Each of the different sections of choreography respond differently to the challenge of wielding power, from rage and struggle to the glamorous teetering acceptance. There is a throughline - an undercurrent of a palpable sense of feral fury.
These women are not in the old rhyme ‘Willie Willie, Harry, Steve,/ Harry, Dick, John, Harry three/...’, or the modern equivalent, the Horrible Histories, The Monarchs Song. They are mostly absent, and that is kind of the point. A few here are losers of civil wars, some thankless regents. Many of the women traded their own personal power for the power of their sons, their blood, and their future.
She-Wolves is exactly what it sets out to be, an absorbing and slightly feral look at a series of female medieval rulers. If you are dithering about whether to go, you should.