REVIEW: The Wolves in the Walls (Little Angel Theatre)

Originally presented at Little Angel Theatre in February 2020,The Wolves in the Walls (co-produced with Bristol Old Vic and York Theatre Royal) was stopped in its tracks by the real-life scary story unfolding across the world. Three years later, Toby Olié’s adaptation returns to Little Angel Theatre to mark the 20th anniversary of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s award-winning graphic novel. Having missed it the first time round, we were excited to be invited to the press performance of this puppetry production aimed at “brave children over 6”.

When Lucy hears sinister scratching coming from the walls of her house, she’s sure that there are wolves lurking on the other side, but her family are far from convinced. Mum thinks they’re mice, Dad reckons rats and Lucy’s brother suspects bats, but to be honest none of them are all that bothered. Mum’s too busy boiling up berries and bottling jam, Dad’s tooting on his tuba (no really – this is a family show) and her brother can barely look up from his games console. But they do all know one thing; when the wolves come out of the walls, it’s all over.

Admittedly, nobody is entirely sure what “it” is, but they find themselves facing up to it when Lucy’s lupine visitors break through the walls and commandeer the family home. Displaced to the bottom of the garden, the family must choose between giving up their home for good or playing the furry interlopers at their own game.

The Wolves in the Walls, designed by Toby Olie. Image credit: Dan Tsantilis

It’s an atmospheric adaptation which strikes the perfect balance between creepy and comedic. Olié’s design beautifully fuses different styles of puppetry, offering a nod to the diversity of artistic techniques utilised by Dave McKean in the original book. Shadow puppetry and eerie lighting design (by Matt Daw) are used very effectively to create mystery and suspense, and there is also some nice use of original music (composed by Adam Pleeth, with song lyrics by Carl Grose).

We loved the attention to detail on the puppet design, especially the inclusion of a magnet on Lucy’s wooden puppet hand to safely carry her own miniature pig puppet. It should come as no surprise that the puppets are a highlight of a Little Angel production, but they even won over Quaver who has surprisingly strong opinions on puppetry; she believes that puppets should exclusively be used to portray animals while human actors play people, but she declared Toby Olié’s artistic choices to have made perfect sense because the people puppets were in proportion to the wolves. The wolf puppets are really quite stunning, eliciting both gasps and giggles from the captive young audience.

Darkly humorous, with a valuable underlying message about making time to listen to our children, The Wolves in the Walls is another brilliant Little Angel adaptation of popular picture book that will delight adults and children alike. Make sure you catch it before it really is over.

The Wolves in the Walls plays at Little Angel Theatre from 23 May to 23 July 2023. We received complimentary tickets to the press performance on Sunday 22 May.

Image credit: Dan Tsantilis