Hilary Bell wrote Wolf Lullaby as a response to the media frenzy relating to the 1993 killing of a 4 year old by a 13 year old, which followed closely after the murder of toddler James Bulger by two older children.
Wolf Lullaby doesn’t look closely at the murder or follow the family of the murdered child, instead it focuses solely on the family of the murderer. Bell asks the audience to question whether violence is a normal part of children’s psyches. Whether the neglect, abuse or indifference some children experience can make them behave in monstrous ways or whether they are born monsters.
It’s difficult subject matter and Wolf Lullaby feels more to me like a psychological exploration than an engrossing piece of theatre. But the inclusion of the child’s nightmare figure: a wolf, helps give it a theatricality. In Bell’s play the murderer is a 9-year-old girl, Lizzie. Her parents love her: they’re splitting up but they still care about each other. There’s no abuse we’re aware of, just the lack of time and preoccupation that leaves many parents telling their children to be quiet and play somewhere else.
But Lizzie has a dark wolf who swallows her up and then does bad things. Terrible things. Like the things that killed a neighbouring toddler. The following excerpt is Lizzie talking to her mother after one of her bad dreams about the wolf.
LIZZIE: Do you ever think bad things?
ANGELA: What do you mean?
LIZZIE: Horrible things that won’t go away.
ANGELA: Of course not.
LIZZIE: Because you’re good?
ANGELA: No, because no-one does. Especially little girls. Only big people worry. You’ve got nothing to do but be the angel you are.
Do parents still fob children off with platitudes like these? That’s a disturbing thought. If a child raises a difficult issue, surely parents should take the time to answer properly? Wolf Lullaby raises many more questions than it answers, yet it didn’t engage me nearly as much as I expected to be engaged. Perhaps in performance it would be more confronting and moving…
Publisher: Currency Press
Cast: 2M, 2F