‘The Wolves in the Walls’ review

Theatre, Children's
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
The Wolves in the Walls, Little Angel, 2020
Photograph: Dan Tsantilis

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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Small but evocative puppet adaptation of the spooky Neil Gaiman kids’ book

The fantasy worlds of Neil Gaiman are having a mini moment on the London stage: the week it was announced that the National Theatre’s ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ would transfer to the West End, here comes this smaller but still singular take on 2003’s ‘The Wolves in the Walls’.

It’s less a whole, sprawling fantasy world, more a compact riff on traditional fairytales, but Toby Olié’s adaptation is still unmistakably Gaiman-esque, the sense of a startling other world existing just a hair’s breadth from ours.

Or perhaps that should be a sheet of wallpaper’s breadth: in ‘The Wolves in the Walls’, young heroine Lucy does indeed hear howling and scratching coming from within her walls – something her parents dismiss, but not before ominously declaring ‘when the wolves come out or the walls, then it’s all over’. And eventually, the wolves do come out of the walls…

The big USP of a production adapted, directed and designed by one of the UK’s top puppetry directors is – duh – the puppets: from the ambling naturalism of Lucy and her family to the mangy, snarling wolves themselves, the beings on stage are as alive as it gets without a pulse, twitching and febrile, controlled by a crack team of four puppeteers, double the usual number for a Little Angel show. And that’s not the whole of it: ornate shadow puppetry and huge projected amber eyes both up the spook factor and offer a degree of homage to the stylistically shifting Dave McKean artwork in the original book.

Tonally, it probably doesn’t capture the philosophically-tinged mix of light and dark in the source material with 100 percent accuracy. With a handful of jaunty songs, it cleaves relatively close to the standard Little Angel picturebook adaptation formula – the age advice is seven-plus, but a brave four or five-year-old would be fine, I’d venture.

Still, it has a certain spooky something to it. And to say that it feels like a fairly straight-down-the-line Little Angel show but with better puppetry, a couple of extra chills and slightly more grown-up source material is, of course, a recommendation. 

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