The Wolves In The Walls @ Hammersmith Lyric, London

cast list
Frances Thorburn
Cora Bissett
Iain Johnstone
Ryan Fletcher

directed by
Vicky Featherstone and Julian Crouch
It’s been a good year for Neil Gaiman fans. His new book, Anansi Boys is in the shops and the visually inventive Mirror Mask captured his work on screen. Now Improbable Theatre, together with the recently established National Theatre of Scotland have adapted his children’s graphic novel The Wolves in the Wall for the stage.

The most successful children’s stories are those where the children are far more clever, brave and resourceful than the adults around them. So it is in Wolves; Lucy knows that there is something wrong with her house, despite reassurance from her jam-making mother, tuba-playing father and gaming-obsessed brother. And of course she’s right.

The book on which this is based, written by Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean, is a very dark tale – based on a nightmare that Gaiman’s own daughter had in which there were wolves hiding in the walls who emerged to take over the house. Co-directors Vicky Featherstone and Julian Crouch haven’t tinkered with the simplicity of the narrative, instead they’ve added Nic Powell’s agreeably mad, occasionally magical, score.

Though there’s plenty of singing, this isn’t a musical as such – the music simply adds an extra layer to the landscape in which the characters exist(a ‘musical pandemonium’ is how they’ve chosen to label it).

And the songs are often very funny; Ryan Fletcher, as Lucy’s brother, is particularly amusing, playing air guitar as he tries to convince her it is only the sound of bats she can hear behind the walls. His is altogether a very endearing performance as the archytypal teenage brother with a short-attention span.

Iain Johnstone is also entertaining as Lucy’s tuba-playing father, as is Cora Bissett as the mother with the serious jam obsession. But the real star of the piece is the perky Frances Thorburn, totally convincing as young Lucy.

The wolves themselves, when we see them, are quite something; shabby, shaggy and silent, with a dark, edgy physicality that the kids in the audience seemed to respond to.

This is an undeniably inventive, amusing and quirky production, but sometimes it was difficult to see who it was aimed at. As I said, there were lots of children present, but not many of them appeared to get the humour of the show while the adult audience howled away. And though it had a short running time, around 75 minutes, it still felt overstretched. It was this confusion that unfortunately took some of the shine of an otherwise enjoyable and endearing production.

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