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Old 1st Nov 2006, 20:31   #1
Noumenon
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Default Wolves In The Walls - Neil Gaiman treads the boards

I was given a couple of free tickets for a night at the theatre, doenchewnoe, so along I pottered with my playwrite buddy to The West Yorkshire Playhouse there to see Neil Gaiman's Wolves In The Walls. And...

I'm not seven anymore, but I sort of wish I was. The audience for the showing was largely adult, certainly no-one below fifteen (a few mental ages excluded), yet once the first player took the stage and the yappers were silenced by their friends there was no doubt that everybody was swept away. For the seven-to-ten year old theatre-goer though, it could be something really special.

The story is... a young compulsive scribbler by the name of Lucy lives with her equally compulsive trombone-playing dad, jam-making mother and computer-game-and-air-guitar-obsessed brother. Her boring days are kept alive by the desire to draw on every flat surface she can find, her only friend a vivid pink bean-bag Piggy. Despite her dreams for some kind of adventure, she is kept awake at night by the sound of somethings in the walls. Not Mice, as mum thinks, nor the Rats her dad suggests, not even the Bats her dismissive brother claims (between powerchords and difficulty levels). The one thing it can't be, they all agree, is Wolves - because when the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over.

Guess what? It ain't mice, rats or bats.

What it is is wonderful to watch. Even before the show begins the curtain gives away a hint as to the production values that have been lavished upon a story adapted from a childrens bed-time scarer (which was originally illustrated by long-time Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean - the influence is strong), scribbly-looking wolfy shapes layered like graffitti on a wall.

When Lucy first appears and bursts into song (WITW is a musical - a slightly strange, almost atonal musical) she also wields a pencil which draws bright new images onto the curtain - a projector paints huge designs from behind in tight coordination with Lucy's frantic arm waving, just the first bit of magic on display. Backlighting plays a large part; many of the sets, innitially looking as solid as walls ought to, prove to be only a thin canvas when (occasionally) menacing silhouettes start to make an appearance.

The principle cast of four are all fine in what is predominantly a light chiller with an emphasis on a strong voice above acting excellence, but they are supported by the second piece of magic - a four-person, ragtag "chorus" who bring the first the house itself and then the Wolves to life. Hiding in plain sight throughout, it quickly becomes easy to see through them to the spirit of a well lived-in home as the family wake up and prepare for each day; later, when the Wolves come to the fore and take control, you only see the soft-stuffed monsters draped about their shoulders as they work their mischief.

It may sound familiar from the film Labyrinth - the red-furred, blue-screen baddies that cavorted around the heroine with their puppeteers unseen - and the principle is the same, but it loses nothing by having the players visible. There is even one similar moment, a great highlight in which Piggy, abandoned in the house when the family flee, embarks on a heroic struggle up a mountainous flight of stairs - now the puppeteers are invisible, a feat made possible by more backlighting effects - which all but raised a cheer from the audience. As a whole the show did raise applause, particularly when the wolves came on to take a bow with the rest.

WITW ran 75 minutes without an interval and I'd love to say not a second was wasted... but. There are a few spells in the front half that dragged just slightly; dad's trombone routine and mum's jam song both overstayed their welcome a smidgeon; but there was little to find fault with and anyway I'm not inclined to try hard, I enjoyed it too much. A four man orchestra played live throughout, also providing sound effects and on one occasion comic relief (deliberate), and I was impressed to see a like-on-TV gentleman signing for the hard of hearing. What the hell, the company responsible deserve name checking too: Improbable.

I'm not really a theatre person but this show is the perfect remedy. It is never static, the eye is constantly drawn one way then another and the space is used excellently - it was very much like watching a film that way and will certainly hold the attention of the most figetty l'ill'un. Or biggun, like me. Wolves In The Walls easily deserves a star for each of them - plus maybe another for the roof.

Last edited by Noumenon; 17th Feb 2007 at 2:54. Reason: I STILL wish I could spell
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Old 2nd Nov 2006, 12:20   #2
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Default Re: Wolves In The Walls - Neil Gaiman treads the boards

Ooooh, I picked up a flyer for this show last weekend. It's coming to Oxford in December I think, and thanks to your review I'm going to hang the expense and get me some tickets.

A great review, can't wait to find out for myself!

Edit: Ahem. I mean later this month.
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Old 2nd Nov 2006, 14:11   #3
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Default Re: Wolves In The Walls - Neil Gaiman treads the boards

Well worth it - if I had gone at the start of the run instead of the end I might have made time for a second visit.
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Old 21st Nov 2006, 17:06   #4
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Default Re: Wolves In The Walls - Neil Gaiman treads the boards

Yes, I saw a poster for this today, we'd bettter get out there quick Davey, only on til Saturday!
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Old 27th Nov 2006, 11:31   #5
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Default Re: Wolves In The Walls - Neil Gaiman treads the boards



I loved it, absolutely brilliant, was grinning the whole way through and then some.

Nou's review hits the spot for everying, loved Pig Puppet's escape attempt. I did also like the little introductory spots for mum, dad, and brother and didn't mind their length - I especially liked when dad and his tuba sent a chair dancing about the room and up the walls, thanks to the house!

Lucy in bed was well done, she stands behind a vertical bed so the audience is given a view as if they were on the ceiling and the sense of perspective gives the suspense of the wolves appearing a greater tension. I loved the piece with the wolves taking over the house too, playing with the record player and getting electrocuted on the stand lamp!

Now, I may just be a big kid at heart, but I don't think anyone came out of that theatre feeling un-elated. Kids all around had a great time and I for at least one of the adults there did too! Don't know how many more places it has on its tour, but well worth the trip if it comes near you.
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