Wolfboy is billed as a "psycho-sexual musical thriller", a description which certainly covers a lot of bases, and makes it difficult to know what to expect.
After attempting suicide, 17-year-old Bernie (Gregg Lowe) has been admitted to what appears to be a psychiatric establishment. Next door lies David (Paul Holowaty), who keeps hearing the voice of a girl called Annie (Annabel Howitt) inside his head. The opening number - a trio between Bernie, singing about slitting his wrists, his older brother Christian (Daniel Boys), who's shocked and upset at what's happened, and David, who's tormented by Annie's voice - sets the tone both musically and emotionally for what follows.
Bernie's nurse Cherry (Emma Rigby) confides that David is convinced he's a wolf and has attacked her, so Bernie picks the lock of David's door to find him restrained and gagged on the bed. His reaction is to taunt David: "I can do anything to you" he sings, and he does - by momentarily suffocating him.
In spite of this, Bernie develops a friendship with David that has strong homo-erotic elements, as he becomes increasingly drawn in to David's wolf fantasy. It soon becomes clear too that both boys have experienced horrors. Bernie's brother wants him to come home and insists on his release. This drives Bernie to a terrible choice which provokes the climax of the play: does he go home with his brother or become a wolf like David?
Suffice to say, there are a lot of nasty secrets lurking around. And David and Bernie aren't the only with something to hid. As Christian begins dating Nurse Cherry, he warns her darkly, "Don't like me". And as the mood grows ever gloomier, even her flirtatious bedside manner fails to bring any light relief.
Unearthing these many hidden truths should drive the story forward. But it doesn't. The problem lies in the lack of variation in tone. The overwhelming grimness, far from building tension, actually has a numbing effect. It's a case of too much bad news. One catastrophe follows another until, when Bernie's terrible secret is finally revealed, it comes as little surprise. The final gory climax to his relationship with David feels equally inevitable.
Despite the current vogue for all things supernatural, this is an odd choice of subject for a musical – certainly, anyone who comes expecting an uptempo version of Twilight is in for a shock. This is definitely not a show for kids, or even for squeamish adults. That said, the music by Leon Parris is surprisingly catchy, and the top-notch cast work hard to engage the audience with their predicaments. If you're into misery set to music, it could be one for you.
- Louise Gooding