Wolves in the Walls

Director: Vicky Featherstone and Julian Crouch
Cast: Cora Bisset, Cait Davis, Ryan Fletcher, Ewan Hunter

Reviewer: Joanna McKenzie

“When the wolves come out of the walls then it’s all over,” said Lucy’s Mum.

Have you ever seen a cartoon on the stage? Until I saw The Wolves in the Walls, neither had I. I had seen Beauty and the Beast on the stage, and that was quite good, but it didn’t have the cartoonish dynamics and over-the-top characterisation that The Wolves in the Walls has.

The play is based on a children’s graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. The story follows Lucy, who likes drawing, her tuba-playing father, her jam-making mother and her video-gaming brother and, of course, the wolves in the walls. I hadn’t read the book before I saw the play, and I had only a very little idea of what I should expect. At first, I did find the emphasis on the single pursuits of each family member to be rather odd. This quickly settled, however, and I realised how cleverly these hobbies combined to not only give each character a distinct personality, but also to weave a web of normalcy into the strangely surreal play.

The characters of Lucy and her family were all well-played. They were dynamic, humorous caricatures of characters, each with their own theme tune and unique hobby. The sets were brilliantly done, showing a clear influence from Dave McKean’s artwork; the house which formed most of the set was little and crooked in an emphasised way that made it really rather endearing. Some of the scenes were set up in a wonderfully unique way, with rooms and props sliding effortlessly in and out of set as required, handled by mysterious black-clad figures. I would be failing to do the production justice if I didn’t mention the wonderfully atmospheric music: not the simplistic singing-kettle sort of children’s songs but rather haunting refrains that combine with the lyrics to create atmosphere and tell story all at once. They call it a “musical pandemonium”, and I can see why. There’s an air of controlled chaos about the whole production.

The stars of the show, however, were definitely the wolves. They were side-splittingly funny. Each wolf was draped around a black-clad puppeteer, and each had mischievous characters of their very own. Watching what the wolves made of ordinary household apparatus was a real scream; and as for little red riding-wolf... well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

In the programme, Neil Gaiman describes family entertainment as “something that you could take a seven year old to and take a ten year old to and take a fifteen year old to and take a twenty five year old to and take a fifty year old to and take a seventy five year old to and they would all get something very different out of it.” Following that logic, then, The Wolves in the Walls is not children’s theatre, but family entertainment, and first-class family entertainment at that.