Casting an eye over some of history’s most important (but often overlooked) female figures, She-Wolves is physical theatre on a mission. A mission that involves shining a light on women from times gone by who have, against all the odds, battled for some semblance of power in a male-dominated world. Some of these women – like Elizabeth I – are probably familiar to most. Others however are less well known. Laura Careless brings each of these figures to life with ferocity and passion in a performance that, while featuring definite highs and lows, is mesmerising throughout.
She-Wolves opens with the line “in the medieval world, power was inescapably male.” Through beautiful dance, rhythmic acting and adopting personas of different women in different times, her storytelling abilities are as impressive as her dancing ones, and the way Careless glides, leaps, and bends around the stage is stunning to behold. By combining these skills, Careless slips in and out of each character with ease, helped by a simple but very effective set of props and costumes – a bundle of robes substituting as a baby proves very effective and moving.
The earliest stories can feel like they are struggling to conjure much of a dramatic atmosphere or sense of place, even if the importance of the story is never lost. As incredible as Careless is throughout, there is only so much she can do unaided. As She-Wolves continues however, and especially as the screen at the back of the stage is put to full use, it becomes an even more gripping experience. A journey through war and a dark forest proves to be She-Wolves’ highlight, an act where the hypnotic dance, incredible onscreen art, and weight of the story all coalesce. The result is something passionate, enlightening, and at times almost bestial.
She-Wolves is an extraordinary experience and an essential watch for anyone wanting to rip the rug up from underneath patriarchy’s grip on history. Experimental, physical and emotional, Careless showcases her incredible theatrical talents in service of stories that may otherwise be lost to time. What women experienced then – and, it is implied, continue to experience today – will hardly be forgotten in a hurry.