The Wolves in the Walls
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 6, 2007
I was surprised by how humdrum The Wolves in the Walls is. This children's theatre production from the National Theatre of Scotland has gotten lots of acclaim, but the story it tells is kind of pointless and the stagecraft employed to tell it is surprisingly flat.
Based on a book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, this musical is about Lucy, a little girl who imagines that there are wolves living in the walls of her house. We meet Lucy and her family in a series of musical numbers: her father, who likes to play the tuba in the bathroom, is indifferent to Lucy and the others; her mother, whose domain is the kitchen, is similarly aloof; and her brother, a video game addict, is, well, addicted to video games. So Lucy is lonely...which sort of explains why she fantasizes about these wolves. But it doesn't explain why, when she tells all three of her family members about her fears of the wolves, they remark that "when the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over."
In the second part of the show, the wolves do indeed come out of the walls, taking over the house and forcing Lucy and her family out into the garden. There they imagine various other places they might live, before winning their house back from the interlopers in an extended fight sequence that is much less exciting than expected. The moral seems to be that working together is the way to get things accomplished. But once the family is restored to their domicile, after a very vague and general nod to appreciating one another a bit more, it appears that the status quo has returned. What has Lucy, and her audience of youngsters, learned from this?
One thing I hope they don't learn is that you're allowed to play with electricity: there's a long sequence when the naive wolves do just that, and it's presented like an old-fashioned cartoon, i.e., without consequences. I hope the very little children in the audience—plentiful on the afternoon I attended the show—get stern warnings from their parents not to mimic what they saw on stage.
Unfortunately, the electricity bit is one of the more vivid parts in the show. Much of Wolves just felt shockingly unimaginative to me, especially given the impressive credentials of designer Julian Crouch (e.g., Shockheaded Peter). There are wolf puppets, operated by four dextrous performers, but they're neither scary nor fun; there are lots of projections, but the video on stage only really comes to life in the briefest of sequences, when we see Lucy's brother inhabiting his video-game world—the promise of live interaction with multimedia elements is realized, but it comes and goes so fast that it barely registers.
The music by Nick Powell is mostly Sondheimesque (Into the Woods?) and lacking in variety. Vicky Featherstone's direction is competent, but just that.
Three of the four actors playing Lucy and her family speak with thick Scottish accents that are hard to decipher (the exception is George Drennan as Dad); the muddiness of their diction could possibly also be a sound problem. Paul James Corrigan, who plays the brother, is the most exciting performer on stage, and clearly a talented dancer; I'd want to see him in something more lively than this show (which would be just about any other show, I'm afraid).
All in all, a disappointing opening for New Victory's season; I guess we'll have to wait for the next item on their busy schedule before we can recommend something fun and entertaining for the whole family.