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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Wolves in the Walls

If the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over… Everyone knows that.
---- Mother
The Wolves in the Walls
The Wolves
(Photograph supplied by Keith Pattison)
Julian Crouch, best known for his macabrely hilarious Shockheaded Peter, was a perfect choice to recreate the darkly comic The Wolves in the Walls on to the stage. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's hugely popular children's book provides some excellently light-hearted, exuberant material for the National Theatre of Scotland's inaugural production. Obviously hoping for family crowds over Easter, this show is billed as "suitable for anyone who's over seven and who's not a scaredy cat!"

The story follows Lucy, a girl who knows that there are wolves in the walls of her otherwise normal, but beloved pebble-dashed home. As everyone enigmatically tells Lucy, "once the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over!" However, the rest of her family are too preoccupied to notice and refuse to believe Lucy until it's too late.

The sheer imagination of Improbable's distinctive, quirky style works very well in this children's production. As Lucy sings an introduction to her home, a miniature house in the background is replaced by progressively larger versions until the family can sit inside. People walk across holding up clouds or make smoke fluff rise from the chimney. Three anonymous stage hands, invisible to the characters, engineer and arrange the scenery and props. There is no attempt to hide them and the audience soon becomes so accustomed to their presence that they do not seem an artificial contrivance, but rather just another part of this eccentric world.

The spooky atmosphere is superbly built up with subtle breathing and scratching noises from around the auditorium. Panels of the house steal up behind Lucy, freezing when she turns to look and wolf shadows creep along the edges of the walls.

Described as a "musical pandemonium", this is not the most polished or expert of musicals but it does have a creatively makeshift feel, as if a real family just happened to sing and dance. Each family member has a song devoted to their particular hobby. The mother sings an ode to her jam-making, the father wows an imaginary concert audience with his trombone-playing and the son plays air guitar to accompany his own rock song fantasy of conquering virtual monsters and achieving phenomenal high-scores.

Frances Thorburn is charmingly endearing as the heroine Lucy. However, the wolf puppets are the real stars of this show. Skeletal, ragged and long-limbed these animals do not even faintly resemble a cute, fluffy Disney-style wolf. They make Lucy's pink pig toy seem so heartrendingly vulnerable. These lupine hooligans enjoy some domestic fun and destruction in the invaded home. One hoovers, another takes a walk with a microwave on a leash and another dresses as Red Riding Hood. My favourite, however, was the disco wolf, who discovers playing an LP record with his claw and reveals the pack's groovy sense of rhythm. The final family versus wolves showdown is well-choreographed with witty energy.

Personally, I would have like to see a lot more of the wolves. However, to compensate for this deficiency, the Lyric are presenting a series of encounters with real wolves (see their website for further details). This is a great, imaginative show for children, but its dark humour and stylised aesthetic will be appreciated by adults as well.

Based on the book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
Directed by Julian Crouch, Vicky Featherstone

With: Frances Thorburn, Iain Johnstone, Cora Bissett, Ryan Fletcher, Cait Davis, Ewan Hunter, Jason Webb, Jessica Tomachak
Musical Direction: Martin Lowe
Original Music and Sound: Nick Powell
Design/Animation: Julian Crouch
Lighting design: Natasha Chivers
Choreography: Steven Hoggett
Puppets and masks: Julian Crouch, Rob Thirtle, Ewan Hunter, Caroline Scott, Cait Davis, Jessica Tomachak, Jason Webb
Running time: 75 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 0870 500 511
Booking to 29th April 2006
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge on 14th April 2006 performance at the Lyric Hammersmith, Lyric Square, King Street, London, W6 0QL (Tube: Hammersmith)
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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