One of the UK’s top puppetry directors Toby Olié has adapted The Wolves in the Walls, the award-winning children’s book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean for the stage, with the production returning to Little Angel Theatre this May.
Toby is a director, designer and performer of puppetry who started his career on the Olivier award-winning National Theatre production of War Horse (as a puppeteer for Joey the horse in the original production at the National Theatre and subsequent West End transfer, eventually becoming associate puppetry director on the show), he went on to work on high-profile productions such as Spirited Away (Imperial Theatre Tokyo), Pinocchio (National Theatre), Don Quixote (Royal Shakespeare Company), The Elephantom (National Theatre), The Little Mermaid (Walt Disney Theatrical) and Peter Pan (National Theatre). Toby is also co-artistic director of Gyre & Gimble, a theatre company specialising in puppetry.
The Wolves in the Walls returns to Little Angel Theatre after having its original run cut short by the Covid pandemic. It runs 12th May to 23rd July 2023. Tickets are on sale here.
The Wolves in the Walls is coming to Little Angel Theatre, what can you tell us about the show?
It’s a puppet-filled hour of thrills and laughs, dealing with themes of bravery and self-belief in the face of adversity. The story centres around Lucy, a nervous girl whose family doesn’t believe her when she claims to hear wolves living in the walls of their house.
But when a pack of wolves do emerge from the walls and evict the family to the bottom of the garden, it is Lucy who summons her courage to lead her family in a mission to get their home back. The show features one of my favourite scenes ever to direct, an anarchic house party that has wolves dancing, dressing up, drinking jam, and even playing the tuba, so what’s not to like?!
What was it about the award-winning children’s book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean that inspired you to adapt it for the stage?
I remember finding the book in 2005 and immediately falling in love with the illustrations, the mix of collage and hand drawn elements gave it such a hand-made feel that I immediately started to imagine the characters as three-dimensional puppets.
Dave’s illustrations alongside Neil’s witty text, tell a story that is equal parts spooky and hilarious, and has such cross-generational appeal – and that is something I’m always striving to do with my work, creating shows that appeal to audiences of all ages.
You are known for your work in puppetry, how have you included that in The Wolves in the Walls?
After developing a reputation for creating shows that feature both actors and puppets performing alongside each other, I was keen to make a show that was 100% puppets, ie. every character is played by a puppet in an entirely puppeteered environment. So, the fantastical, imaginative story of The Wolves in the Walls was the perfect opportunity to celebrate the medium of puppetry. The production also features different forms of puppetry, as there are lots of shadow puppets used alongside the puppets of Lucy, her family, and the wolves, which allows the audience to see inside Lucy’s imagination as the shadow ’thought bubbles’ materialise around her.
Tell us a little about the other elements of the show, such as the music?
A majority of my work has been entirely underscored, as music combines so well with puppetry to bring a range of emotions to any story. In The Wolves in the Walls, Lucy’s story sees her go from very unsure and nervous to triumphant and confident, so having a musical motif for her that can evolve and change as she does, allows the audience to connect with her on a whole other sensory level.
Adam Pleeth the composer is such a wizard, he found a different style of music for each of the characters, including the wolves themselves, so when they all confront each other you can hear a mix of all of their individual melodies layered up and interacting, it’s so intricate, but feels very effortless when working alongside the action of the puppets.
The production’s original run was cut short due to the pandemic, how does it feel to be bringing it back and has anything about the show changed?
I’d wanted to adapt the book into a show for nearly 15 years, so having the opening run cut short was devastating. But getting to revive and re-visit the show after a few years is proving to be a very exciting prospect. Especially as now I know what the piece is, we can explore and develop its tone, pace, and humour. 50% of the cast is also new for this production, so exploring Lucy’s family dynamic with a new combination of personalities is leading to some fun new moments and interactions, as well as a very joyful evolution of the wolves and their party.
What would you say to anyone thinking of booking to see The Wolves in the Walls?
That they should go ahead and do it! The show is an entertaining mix of the supernatural and the silly, and having a protagonist overcoming their fears and learning what it is to be brave is something we all can relate to whatever our age. The cast are also some of the best puppeteers I’ve worked with, and seeing them intricately tell this mad-cap story with such dexterity and energy is really inspiring and hopefully awe-inducing for the audience.