THE members of Salisbury’s Studio Youth Theatre chose Russ Tunney’s highly-praised adaptation of Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (the first of her long series of Wolves books) for the first show of 2023, on at the theatre in Ashley Road until Saturday 18th February.
Set in a time that never was – the fictional early 19th century reign of James III, with its handy channel tunnel – it tells the story of cousins Bonnie and Sylvia, left to their own devices in a sprawling country mansion when Bonnie’s parents went south for the weather. Papa left his distant cousin, the evil Miss Slighcarp, to “care” for the girls, and she came equipped with a villainous wide boy forger and a scheming teacher, all of them with an extensive knowledge of English (and foreign) cheeses.
Add to that a delightfully fey goose boy and a circling pack of wolves in the mist, and you have all the ingredients for mystery, menace and adventure. The young actors lapped it up.
Written for Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre, Tunney’s version is narrated by a fluid Greek-style chorus. Someone along the way decided that this should be a steampunk version, and the costumes were pure Helena Bonham- Carter. The atmospheric set, designed by Colin Hayman, who also helped with the direction, was replete with dry ice, the “big house” a model on a hill, spectrally lit from inside, and a massive fireplace hiding secret passages.
It’s an ensemble piece, and all the chorus members had a character cameo. Particularly memorable were Joel White’s confident Mr Grimshaw, Liv Wordley’s spirited Bonnie and Maddy Ricketts’ frightened Sylvia, along with arch baddies Emma Dyson (the monstrous Slighcarp, and Ratidzo Mavunga’s two-faced Brisket, as well as Em’s charming Simon the goose boy.