Review: White Fang, at Park Theatre
Reimagining of Jack London’s novel is a big, bold idea in a small space that explores love, loss, hardship and redemption
02 January, 2018 — By Catherine Usher
Danny Mahoney and Bebe Sanders in White Fang. Photo: Jethro Compton
FROM the very start, White Fang has a distinctly cinematic quality, as a young woman struggles to be accepted by her adopted community, all the while protected by the wolf she’s raised since it was a cub.
Sometimes the tone is a little too schmaltzy, but generally writer and director Jethro Compton has a refreshingly uplifting approach to his reimagining of Jack London’s novel, and the frequent musical moments are nicely woven into the narrative. There are a wide variety of influences – from Little House on the Prairie and Calamity Jane to Dances With Wolves and Django Unchained.
Although the available space is utilised well, it feels just a little bit cramped, and that the production would fit more comfortably into a bigger venue. The wolf puppet is astonishingly realistic, bringing White Fang’s powerful and frequently threatening character to life. Its movement is also beautifully observed, and the way the actors frequently work together to breathe life into the animal heightens the sense of each human’s connection with the wolf, which is a theme throughout the story.
As Lyzbet Scott, Mariska Ariya displays all the necessary charisma to navigate her way through the story’s themes of love, loss, hardship and redemption against the backdrop of North-Western Canada at the very end of the 19th century.
As the adopted daughter of a white man who was rescued when her tribe was massacred, Lyzbet has many prejudices to overcome and her progression from nervous teenager to accomplished hunter is nicely played out. Ariya expertly portrays Lyzbet’s conflicting characteristics, as her inner strength and sense of determination compete with her feelings of isolation and rejection.
The rest of the cast are equally impressive, particularly Paul Albertson as dastardly businessman Beauty Smith and Robert G Slade as Weedon Scott, the rather reluctant head of the family.
There is certainly a whimsical element to the show, which will no doubt prevent some audience members from engaging with the tale in the way that’s intended. However, it is a big, bold idea in a small space, so it’s best to leave your cynicism outside – there’s no room for it.
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