From its charming turn-off-your-phones announcement to its playful ‘what next?’ last line, The Wolves in the Walls is a reassuringly confident piece of family theatre adapted from Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s 2003 book.
The show has a firm handle on its own identity, and its audience, which leads to 50 minutes of joyful, smart storytelling at the puppet-focused Little Angel Theatre.
It’s a story of bravery, family and searching for home, told by four actors working with puppets, music, projections and shadow-work. The only element that doesn’t quite land is the songs. The lyrics are largely rudimentary and the melodies a little uninspiring compared with the rest of the show’s score and script. However, this missed opportunity doesn’t detract from the overall experience.
The puppetry is utterly magnificent. The titular wolves are particularly impressive. Initially they’re depicted as frightening creatures, all tattered sackcloth and feral howls, but this is undercut by a gloriously anarchic and very funny set piece that is as silly as it is scary.
While nominally taking responsibility for one character each, the actors work seamlessly together to operate the puppets and move the pieces of the set around.
Director and designer Toby Olié has created a show that captures the spirit of the original text while also being clear in its own identity as a piece of theatre – something that many adaptations of children’s books struggle with. Olié demonstrates remarkable intuition for what makes family theatre work.