Theatre review: Wolf at the Door’s fascinating history lesson is hampered by its love story

While the 19th century Luddite movement makes for a fascinating backdrop in Tina Teeninga’s new play Wolf at the Door, its love story was unsurprising.

Wolf at the DoorWolf at the Door tells the story of the Grenfell clan, textile artisans who have been eking out a living selling their homespun garments to the locals. With a new textile factory built in the area, the Grenfell’s find their way of life quickly disappearing as their traditional buyers look to the cheaper garments being made on the factory’s automated looms. Torn between their peaceful nature and desire to support their family, the father and his youngest daughter find themselves drawn deeper into the Luddites plans for destroying the looms and even the factories.

Where Teeninga’s story excels is in its historical story of the rise of the Luddites. A 19th century social movement that saw the group opposing the new textile mills that had spread across Britain, the Luddites became increasingly violent, destroying looms and factories across Britain. Teeninga captures the desperation that Grenfeld and his family face as they see their lives being forever changed by industrialization.

Against this historical backdrop however, Teeninga has layered a somewhat unsurprising love story, complete with fairytale ending, which sees the eldest Grenfell daughter becomes engaged to one of the factory supervisors against her father’s wishes. While an obvious metaphor for the inevitability of the new industrialization and growing global economy, the real strength of Teeninga’s script came from the relationship between father and younger daughter and I found myself cheated as the play’s focus was continually being pulled by the more predictable love story.

Despite Teeninga breaking no new ground in her love story, what is surprising is how much this cast has accomplished. Under the direction of Kerri Norris, the ensemble has managed to bring life to their staged reading despite only having come together just days before. Even though the cast was still on book and only had rudimentary blocking, there is still much to like here and the assembled performers once again help to prove the level of talent in our city.

Standouts include Ron Reed as the patriarch who finds some depth to his conflict and Shauna Johannesen as his wife. Kirsty Provan works hard as the young daughter Harriet but I must admit to having a difficult time figuring out what age she was meant to play. As the leaders of the Luddite movement, Lori Kokotailo and Byron Noble bring intensity to their roles, although sometimes they could be reminded that less is more. As this was a workshop I can overlook the accents attempted but it will become imperative for cast to nail these in any future production.

As she continues to develop Wolf at the Door, hopefully Teeninga can overcome the predictability of her love story against its more fascinating time in history. For now I am grateful for the time in her garden and look forward to seeing it in full bloom.

Wolf At The Door

By Tina Teeninga.  Directed by Kerri Norris.  A Pacific Theatre production.  No further performances scheduled.  Visit http://www.pacifictheatre.org for more information.

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