London Theater Review: ‘The Wolf from the Door’ at the Royal Court

Anna Chancellor, Calvin Demba, Pearce Quigley, Sophie Russell.

At the village hall, the choirmaster brings news of a slight adjustment to the plan. “I’ve successfully equipped most of the choir with AK47s but I’ve had to plump for M16s for the altos because they have a tendency to get a bit flappy.” Juxtaposing mundane rural activity with bloody revolution, “The Wolf from the Door” imagines a nationwide uprising. Award-garlanded young scribe Rory Mullarkey abandons prosaic political drama in favor of a surreal fantasia in sixteen snapshot scenes. But although James Macdonald’s beautifully poised production at the Royal Court honors the writing, even he cannot render the approach wholly successful.  

A cross between a road-movie and a plan of attack, Mullarkey’s obliquely funny play is led by articulate aristocrat Catherine (smoothly ruthless Anna Chancellor), who begins by picking up homeless wanderer Leo (Calvin Demba) at a quiet train station. She’s not, as he imagines, after his body. In fact, she’s chosen him because he’s beautiful enough to be the figurehead for the revolution.

All over the country people are waiting for a sign from her before mounting a collective attack on the system which keeps people in a state of “division, slavery and poverty, in many cases economic, in all cases spiritual.” And that sign turns out to take place in the local branch of a supermarket chain where the hapless deputy manager is beheaded (unseen on stage) by Leo.

From that point, Catherine and Leo’s activities achieve a bizarre but crisp logic. On their way to London they encounter supporters and detractors — their random encounter with a pair of fully costumed 17th century English Civil War re-enactors is a highlight — and Mullarkey’s evident enjoyment at playing with and twisting audiences’ expectations and sympathies is highly watchable.

Along the way, he whips up character with impressive economy, a feature feasted upon by Sophie Russell and Pearce Quigley who deftly play rafts of characters between them, all with richly textured aplomb and unexpected pathos. By necessity, Leo is more of a cipher but Demba gives him a degree of consistency. The evening, however, belongs to Chancellor, whose immaculate timing and thoughtfulness finds tenderness in a merciless role.

Macdonald adds notable weight to his crisp and highly effective staging by interspersing scenes with blasts of Elgar, Mozart, Handel, Holst and beyond. Yet he cannot disguise the play’s weakness. The scene of flower-arranging masking political revolution echoes “The Manchurian Candidate,” but where the that film’s blackly comic handling of plot achieved shocking cumulative power, this play gradually runs out of steam. It’s intriguing to find a clearly gifted young writer investigating ideas in non-traditional forms, but here his structure and development aren’t strong enough to carry his dramatic idea.

London Theater Review: 'The Wolf from the Door' at the Royal Court

Royal Court Upstairs; 85 seats; £20, $33. Opened, Sept. 15, 2014; reviewed Sept. 17. Running time: 1 HOUR, 25 MIN.

Production: A Royal Court Theater presentation of a play in one act by Rory Mullarkey.

Creative: Directed by James Macdonald. Sets and costumes, Tom Pye; lighting Peter Mumford; sound, Giles Thomas; production stage manager, Sarah Coates and Jules Richardson.

Cast: Anna Chancellor, Calvin Demba, Pearce Quigley, Sophie Russell.

More Legit

  • Because of Winn Dixie review

    Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical

    Watching the musical “Because of Winn Dixie” at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn., it’s hard not to think of another show that premiered in the same regional theater 43 years ago. It, too, featured a scruffy stray dog, a lonely-but-enterprising young girl and a closed-off daddy who finally opens up. But “Winn Dixie,” based [...]


    Off Broadway Review: 'Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow'

    There’s something about Anton Chekhov’s whiny sisters that invites comic sendups of “Three Sisters” like the one Halley Feiffer wrote on commission for the Williamstown Theater Festival. Transferred to MCC Theater’s new Off Broadway space and playing in the round in a black box with limited seating capacity, the crafty show feels intimate and familiar. [...]

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]


    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content