Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves is a dark tale about sexual desire, based on the story of Red Riding Hood. Imagine my surprise then on entering the theatre and being given a piece of card that I was told to draw my ‘heart’s desire’ onto. We were also provided with some glitter-glue, pens, pipe-cleaners, and more glittery things to carry out this task.
This is 3Bugs’ way of attempting to create immersive theatre, with picnic blankets on the ground for us to sit on. Immersive theatre can be done better than this though. The cast don’t bother to coax us in and everyone nervously approaches the picnic baskets full of stationary, unsure as to whether we are really meant to join in or not. It feels like it’s trying to be immersive for the sake of looking quirky, rather than actually offering that immersive experience. Our masterpieces were then taken away from us and placed uselessly at the side of the stage. Taking the picnic baskets away before the show begins might also be a good idea – although watching the cast trip over them does add some unintentional comedy to the play.
The set-up of the production is clever with an emphasis on storytelling that allows much of Carter’s prose to be kept. The grandma tells her stories well, with a crazy air and looking slightly like she needs to put her teeth in. It’s an over-the-top performance, but one that fits into the world of fairytales. Despite keeping a lot of Carter’s prose, however, the production largely fails to capture her wry wit or humour. The music and guitar playing that punctuates the production could have been a nice touch, but the folky tunes feel at odds with the narrative. Not to mention there are some lyrics Carter would have cringed at, including one particularly awful line near the end about ‘being what your heart desires you to be.’ The Disney-style message undercuts the darkness of Carter’s tale.
The concept of having the wolf stalk around the audience, creeping behind us when we least expect it, is a good idea, and his physical movements are both animalistic and oddly seductive. The wolf never really becomes overly menacing or sympathetic though, which seems to miss the point of Carter’s line: ‘the wolf may be more than he seems.’ Grandma tells us this often, but it never really comes through in the performance.
It’s not that this isn’t an enjoyable show to watch, but there are too many flaws to the performance and it always feels like it’s not really sure what story it’s trying to tell. Perhaps this fits with Carter’s often ambiguous tales, but there’s ambiguity and then there’s complete and utter indecision. The latter feels like this production, which tows a thin line between Disney twee and Carter’s darkness. There are some good ideas here, but it needed tighter direction and a firmer grasp on its interpretation of the tale. Unfortunately, you don’t even get to keep your glitter-glue masterpieces either.