Wolf Cub Hampstead Theatre: Gut wrenching but hopeful tale of survival ****

Clare Latham in Wolf Cub at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

Clare Latham in Wolf Cub at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs - Credit: Robert Day

There's just about time to catch this play that transforms the political into the personal, and draws out the human suffering behind the social evils that plague society.

Set against the backdrop of the 1980s war on drugs and a non-existent US welfare state under Ronald Reagan, Che walker's 75 minute monologue tells the story of Maxine (Clare Latham), an only child raised in a motherless household by a misogynistic, racist father.

It's a thorough and gut-wrenching character study. The young Maxine is sensitive and innocent, but as she recalls trauma upon trauma at the hands of her father, she toughens to become a cold, emotionless criminal.

Both young and old, there is a wildness to her as she imagines herself as a wolf cub at moments of difficulty - a dark force that she invokes to allow her to summon strength and a female resistance to the cruel male world she inhabits. 

Clare Latham in Wolf Cub at Hampstead Theatre

Clare Latham in Wolf Cub at Hampstead Theatre - Credit: Robert Day

Latham’s marathon central performance is truly something to behold as she covers every inch of the stage and auditorium, conjuring an immense variety of characters and emotions. Walker’s script is visceral and unflinching, recalling extreme trauma in every gruesome detail. Evocative descriptions of sights, smells, noises carry proceedings far beyond Hampstead Theatre's cosy studio as we journey from the Deep South, to Los Angeles, and Nicaragua. 

Amy Jane Cook‘s set is a misty woodland, with a cracked road in the foreground. A liminal urban space, with wildness encroaching, that's symbolic of Maxine’s persona. Bethany Gupwell‘s Lighting and John Leonard‘s sound continually shift and gyrate to reflect both Maxine’s emotional journey and exterior world. 

Wolf Cub is at heart a story of survival. There is a metaphysical aspect with Maxine regularly invoking nature and the stars in contrast to the grit and depravity of urban life. These moments add a touch of magic and a glimmer of hope that even a life lived under the most desperate of circumstances can be transformed into something extraordinary. Until May 7.