Wolves in the Walls (Theater) – Feature

From the 19th March Times Online:

Pity the wolf. Was ever a creature so maligned? The last British wolf was killed in the Scottish Highlands by MacQueen, stalker to the Laird of Mackintosh, after it had savaged two children. That was in 1743. Yet, more than 250 years later, children still fear the slavering jaws of what is essentially an overgrown dog.

Literature has a lot to answer for, whether it’s Angela Carter’s fairy tales or Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, in which errant children are threatened with becoming “wolf porridge”. Neither story, though, quite matches The Wolves in the Walls for terror. In Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s picture book, the young heroine, Lucy, believes she can hear lupine rustlings behind the walls of her home. Seeking reassurance, she approaches her parents. “I’m sure it’s not wolves,” says her mother, “for you know what they say… If the wolves come out of the walls, it’s all over.”

“What’s all over?” asks Lucy.

“It,” replies her mother. “Everybody knows that.” Probably best not to read this as a bedtime story.

This strange tale may seem a strange choice for the first big show from the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS). When the National Theatre in London opened at the Old Vic in 1963, the first production was Hamlet, directed by Peter Hall and starring Peter O’Toole. Surely the Scots could have rustled up Brian Cox in Macbeth? It was never going to be that way. Unlike the National Theatre in London, the NTS has no contracted actors (save for a tiny education team), working instead through co-productions with Scotland’s existing theatre companies. Nor does it have a permanent home, and when you consider the millstone bricks and mortar have been to artistic directors elsewhere, that’s probably a blessing. It leaves more energy and more of the £4.5m annual budget to devote to the work.

One downside is that, without a building, you are asking the public to engage with an abstraction: would the National Theatre in London have cemented its position if it wasn’t anchored on the South Bank?

Potential pitfalls for the NTS were evident at its official launch in February. The opening event, Home, featured 10 productions around Scotland. In Shetland, fiddlers played on a ferry, while Edinburgh offered a children’s-eye view of First Minister’s Questions, starring Daniella Nardini and Tam Dean Burn. Glasgow’s show had abseiling cameramen filming a drama taking place inside an Easterhouse tower block, which was projected onto a screen outside; Lord of the Rings actor Billy Boyd starred. The message was unmistakable: here was a theatre for the whole country. It was hard, though, to escape the impression that, in some cases, artistic excellence had been sacrificed to the demands of accessibility.

The NTS’s unflappable artistic director, Vicky Featherstone, argues, with some justification, that 10,000 people saw the shows, far more than could have attended any red-carpet premiere. But the impression was of a missed opportunity to make a habitually patriotic Scottish public aware they had a new national institution of which to be proud. Publicity-wise, it didn’t help that the opening night was on the same Saturday Scotland beat England at rugby. Guess what got the front-page pictures on the Sunday.

Still, in a strong first season, there is new work from David Harrower, an overdue revival of Chris Hannan’s Elizabeth Gordon Quinn and a stage version of John Byrne’s Tutti Frutti. The Wolves in the Walls should add a little bite, too.

Featherstone (who previously ran Paines Plough) came across the book by chance. “I was in rehearsal with no childcare. I had to find something for my children. There it was in a bookshop.” The mask-maker Julian Crouch agreed to co-direct an adaptation. As one of the presiding spirits of Improbable Theatre, Crouch had a track record of helping gothic children’s stories to the stage. The team’s Shockheaded Peter – a “junk musical” based on Heinrich Hoffmann’s cautionary tales – has gone from West Yorkshire Playhouse via the West End to New York.

Why the interest in the macabre? “I have a short attention span,” says Crouch, in a break from rehearsals in Glasgow. “So wolves, or children having their thumbs cut off, hold my interest.”

With two weeks of rehearsals to go, the show is coming together: the four-person band is here for the first time, playing the haunting score by Nick Powell; and Featherstone is marshalling her cast of eight.

But the stars are the wolves. If there were an annual prize for puppet- making, Crouch would have it sewn up. Raised in Ayr, he won a collage competition at 14. He won a camera – but he was more excited by a tub of Copydex that came with it. His burlap-and-latex creations – with ping-pong-ball eyes and glue-stick teeth – leer from the rehearsal room’s corners. Big wolves with dangly legs work as body extensions. Smaller masks go on the actors’ heads. There is even one made from a litter-picker tied to elastic. Tap it and it lunges forward.

The effect is funny, but also haunting, exactly the tone The Wolves in the Walls strives for. “In a way, it’s quite serious,” Featherstone says. “All the best children’s stories are. Lucy’s family all have obsessions. Her father plays the tuba, her mother makes jam and her brother has video games. She’s got nothing, and wants them to focus on her, so she creates the wolves.”

Crouch cuts in: “There are a lot of interpretations. To me, there’s a global aspect to it. It’s like panics about immigration. The awful, unknown thing becomes normal very quickly. When the wolves come out of the wall, it’s not all over. It is more exciting.”

After centuries of abuse, the wolf may relish a little good press. At least, for once, nobody will complain if they huff, puff and bring the house down.
–Adrian Turpin


Interview – Julia Crouch – The Guardian

From the 29th March Guardian:

‘I am very much from the Cliff Richard Summer Holiday school of theatre design and direction,” says Julian Crouch with a grin. “I feel happiest and most comfortable when I’m in a big space with lots of other really creative people and we’re all doing it together. My idea of the perfect working situation would be to find myself in a room and for someone to say, ‘Hey, let’s put on a show.’ And we’d just do it. I’d be in my element.”

The first time I saw Julian Crouch on stage, in Improbable’s improvised object animation show Animo, he conjured a swan out of nothing but newspaper. Then he created a newspaper bridge for it to swim under, and added a couple of ducks for good measure. It was all over in the blink of an eye and it was like watching a magician at work. Afterwards, you couldn’t quite believe you had really seen what you thought you had.

Vicky Featherstone, the artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, is currently co-directing with Crouch a staged version of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s cult picture book, The Wolves in the Walls. She says she recognises that feeling: “When you talk about an idea with Julian, he has an immediate understanding of how that can translate physically on to the stage. One afternoon after he’d finished making the wolves he sat one of the actresses down on a sofa with a wolf and began directing them. The wolf just came alive before your eyes. It was so exhilarating.”

Not for nothing did Crouch begin his career with a company called Trickster – he is a master at making people rub their eyes in the theatre. Now 43, he has worked on some of the biggest hits of the

past decade, including Shockheaded Peter, the worldwide success for which he created a Penny Dreadful Victorian theatre full of trap doors and secret exits and entrances, and Jerry Springer – the Opera, on which he was designer and associate director. He is also one of the artistic triumvirate that makes up Improbable Theatre, a company of infinite variety and invention whose work runs the gamut from improvisation-based shows such as Animo and Lifegame, to the jokey splatterfest Theatre of Blood, recently at the National Theatre.

Crouch is part of a growing band of theatre practitioners who refuse to be pigeonholed as either designers or directors, but want to do it all. So much so, in his case, that Crouch also writes, devises, improvises and performs, is a puppeteer and puppet-maker and can even turn his hand to pyrotechnics, as in his outdoor spectacular Sticky. That show also involved the nightly construction of a 100ft tower out of Sellotape: it sprang up in less than an hour and disappeared in minutes, existing only as a strange, beautiful, teasing memory.

Even Crouch says: “I really don’t know quite what I am. I definitely don’t feel like a real theatre designer, even though that is how I am often described. And I know that I’m not a director on my own. I’m a co-director – I thrive on collaboration. I quite like not knowing what I’m supposed to be doing.” He admits, though, that there was a time 20 years ago, when he first came to London after spending several seasons working with Welfare State International, when he would have been very happy to be accepted as a theatre designer.

“I’m entirely self-taught; I never had any formal training. Working at Welfare State was my education. But neither agents nor Equity would take me seriously. They didn’t think that making giant wobbly puppets in muddy fields in the middle of nowhere qualified me to be a theatre designer. It was hard to get work and a struggle to be accepted. Until I did Shockheaded Peter I felt completely invisible.”

Brought up in Scotland, where his father was a drama lecturer, Crouch was an arty child who won a collage competition in his early teens when he cut up his old school uniform and turned it into a playground scene. Part of the prize included a large supply of Copydex. Crouch became fascinated with the stuff – in a way that had nothing to do with teenage glue-sniffing and everything to do with its possibilities as an artistic medium. Soon he had been roped into making masks for his father’s productions, sparking an obsession with mask and puppet-making that continues to this day.

Rather than go to art school or design college, Crouch went on to study the history of art at Edinburgh university. He has no regrets about this – something that was reinforced recently when he helped to judge the prestigious Linbury award for design. “I found it interesting to measure myself up against those people who had done it the proper way. The people who won the award were fantastic. But a lot of the work I saw was uninspired and by people who had been taught in classes that were too big, and forced on to courses that didn’t really interest them. It made me glad I’d never been through that.”

Having struggled to be accepted as a designer, Crouch is now struggling to leave the tag – at least in its more traditional connotations – behind. “It’s transformation that really interests me,” he says. “I’m not that interested in the look of things, which is probably quite a heretical thing to say. What interests me is how things change and transform. It is probably why I wouldn’t be the designer of choice for a one-set show. I like designs that you see and then they are gone. To me it feels more like music – you hear a piece you like, and you might be able to whistle a snatch of it, but you can’t quite capture it until you hear it again. I want my designs to be like that.”

For the past couple of months Crouch has been working on what sounds like his dream job: the adaptation of The Wolves in the Wall, which he is creating alongside Featherstone, choreographer Steven Hoggett from Frantic Assembly and composer Nick Powell. Together with the cast, they’re turning Gaiman and McKean’s scary children’s book into a “musical pandemonium” for all the family.

“It’s been like a huge open workshop. I’ve been making the wolves in one corner. Nick has been in another making music. It’s been slightly crazy and very satisfying. There is something messy about the process, just as there is about Neil and Dave’s book. We are very badly behaved and chaotic – just like the wolves.”

The Wolves in the Walls tells the story of Lucy, who hears noises in the walls of her house and is convinced that wolves are making the sounds. The rest of her family don’t believe her, saying it must be bats or rats, because when the wolves come out of the walls “it is all over”. But Lucy is proved right and when the wolves do tumble out of the walls, the family abandon their home until the resourceful Lucy finds a way to win it back.

“The story,” suggests Crouch, “is a metaphor for whatever you want it to be. It could be about a mum and dad who are splitting up and whose daughter overhears their conversation; it could be a refugee story about demonising incomers. It is very open. I like things that have gaps and that allow room for the audience to put themselves in it. It is the gaps between bits of dialogue or things happening on stage that are often the most interesting in theatre.”

Gaiman says that as soon as he and McKean – whose startlingly original movie MirrorMask has just been released in this country – met Crouch, they knew that their book was in safe hands. “Dave and Julian were practically long-lost twins who admired each other’s work,” recalls Gaiman. “Long-lost twins,” repeats Crouch slowly when I tell him this. “Yes, there are many similarities in our work.” Then he adds dryly: “But I believe Dave McKean is far more wealthy than me.”

Crouch agrees that working with someone else’s visual material has been slightly strange, but that “bit by bit I’ve wrestled it into my own territory”. A crucial change is that in the book the house is a gothic, Addams Family-style construction, but, having lived in Scotland between the ages of two and 23, Crouch was keen to give it a Scottish setting. “It is made from a remembered architecture, the suburban Scottish housing estates of my youth. I constantly dream about the houses in which I have lived, and this was a chance to make use of those dreams. One of the things I’ve done is to create lots of walls and staircases, and in this case the actors don’t move about the scenery, it moves around them.”

The most important thing is how Crouch decided to realise the wolves, who in the book are naughty, funny and immensely scary all at the same time. It’s no surprise to discover that he hasn’t opted for the obvious. “One of the things I always find useful,” says Crouch, “is to limit my palette and try to find a way to stylistically tie a show together. I like the idea of an obsession in a show, whether it is books or baskets or some other material. Sticky, 70 Hill Lane and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were my Sellotape shows. Shockheaded Peter was my muslin show, and The Wolves in the Walls is my hessian show. The wolves are made from sacking – which is rather appropriate because of Scotland’s long tradition of mining and jute sacks.” He shakes his head, adding: “I expect some people will be disappointed, but right from the beginning I knew that there was definitely wasn’t going to be any fur”
–Lyn Gardner


Stardust (Film) News

From the 28th March Aberdeen Press and Journal:


Some of the world’s b
iggest stars will swap Hollywood for the Highlands when filming of a big-budget movie begins next month.

Among those signed up to appear in the fantasy Stardust are Robert De Niro, Claudia Schiffer and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Sienna Miller, Charlie Cox and Claire Danes will also star.

Schiffer’s husband, Matthew Vaughn, will direct the movie, which has been adapted from the novel by Neil Gaiman.

It has been reported that Vaughn, who was best man at Guy Ritchie’s wedding to Madonna at Skibo Castle in 2000, has already made preparatory visits to the Highlands and Islands.

Filming at locations such as Skye and Inverness is expected to begin next month and the movie will be released in cinemas next year.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Highland and Islands Film Commission confirmed that the film’s producers were interested in using a number of Highland locations.

She said: “We are hoping that it is going to go ahead but everything is up in the air. We are competing with other locations.”

Stardust follows the quest of a young man called Tristran to win the affections of a girl, Victoria, by finding a falling star.

But during his journey he comes face to face with a witch, played by Pfeiffer, and the pirate Captain Shakespeare, played by De Niro.

Vaughn co-wrote the script with Jane Goldman, wife of TV and radio presenter Jonathan Ross.

As a director Vaughn has released just one film, Layer Cake, in 2004, but his producing credits include two Guy Ritchie films – Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch.

In a recent statement, Vaughn said: “I am delighted to be able to work with such a stellar cast in bringing the magic of Stardust to the screen. I look forward to once again shooting in the UK.”

Willie Cameron, of Loch Ness Marketing, a location and film facilities company, said there was no reason why big films could not be made in the Highlands.

“I know that in the last Budget the chancellor was giving incentives for companies coming into the Highlands. But it is too late. That should have been done after Local Hero in 1983.”

He added: “There is no good reason why this can’t be done in the Highlands. We have some of the best locations in Europe.”
–Jane Candlish


Wolves in the Walls (Theater) – Previews

From the 25th March Guardian:

The Wolves In The Walls
Glasgow

If you loved Shockheaded Peter, then you are in for a treat. Designer/director Julian Crouch, who worked on that show and is one of the regulars who make up Improbable Theatre, has joined forces with Vicky Featherstone, the artistic director of the National Theatre Of Scotland, to create what is a described as “musical pandemonium”. Based on Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s cult children’s picture book, it tells the story of Lucy, who is convinced there are wolves living in the walls. Of course nobody believes her – until the wolves come out of the walls and take over the house. It looks like it’s all over for Lucy and her family, but Lucy has a trick up her sleeve. The book is mad, scary and deliciously funny and the show, that uses both puppets and actors, should be too.
–Lyn Gardner


From the Evening Times Online:

The Wolves In The Walls, the first stage show from the National Theatre of Scotland, is having its world premiere at the Tramway on Saturday.

The musical show, in co-production with Improbable, is designed to appeal to everyone over the age of seven.

Devised from Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s eponymous graphic children’s book, Wolves tells the story of little Lucy.

Lucy is restless. Her hands are laced behind her back and she has the look of a child who is looking for trouble.

Meanwhile, Lucy’s mother is making jam, her brother playing computer games, and her father out at work (playing his tuba).

But then we realise that Lucy can hear noises in the walls.

And we see Lucy, her face and ear pressed flat to the wall, nervous but excited.

Nobody believes her though. Her mum thinks it’s mice. Her dad thinks it’s rats. Her brother thinks it might be bats.

It can’t be wolves, they say. Because you know the old saying – when the wolves come out of the walls, it’s all over.

There is a direct moral simplicity to the tale which has also been described as savagely modern.

We get to see the wolves emerging from the wall, the wolf party, thanks to clever puppetry.

A spokesman said: “National Theatre of Scotland artistic director Vicky Featherstone, Improbable’s Julian Crouch and composer Nick Powell collaborate with a cast of puppets and actors, musicians and scenery to create an intensely visual, raucous and scratchy, joyous and scary expose of how anarchic wolves really are.”

The Wolves In The Walls features Cora Bissett, Iain Johnstone, Frances Thorburn (photo), and Ryan Fletcher.

March 25-April 4 (previews March 25-28), Tramway, Albert Drive, 7.30pm, matinees vary, £9/£6 conc, previews £7/£4 conc. 0845 330 3501.
–Brian Beacom


Feature – Times (UK)

From the 25th March Times Online:

The new National Theatre of Scotland has no official home. So it doesn’t have doors. But if it did, it might be expected to be opening them with a play by one of any number of young Scottish playwrights. Or at least something with a Scottish theme. Macbeth, perhaps. Mary Stuart might have suited (which David Harrower is indeed adapting for a future production). But what you would never have expected it to announce itself with is The Wolves in the Walls, a musical adapted from a children’s book written by someone who, despite copious credits in an array of literary genres, has actually never written a play or indeed song lyrics. And who happens to be English. And lives in Minnesota.

Neil Gaiman is, in the words of Forbes magazine, “the most famous author you’ve never heard of”. His 25-year career has always been of a decidedly strange hue, taking in comics, graphic novels and children’s fiction – many of them produced in collaboration with the graphic artist Dave McKean – plus fantasy fiction for adults and screenplays (MirrorMask, which has just been released, and Robert Zemeckis’s long-awaited Beowulf). There is even an unauthorised biography of Duran Duran with Gaiman’s name on it. Supplying the source material for the new National Theatre of Scotland is only the latest feint from a writer more or less impossible to pin down.

The Wolves in the Walls is a book for children that does exactly what it says on the cover. It tells of a child who imagines a pack of wolves within the walls of her home. It takes an unusually febrile imagination to come up with such a bizarre idea, except that this story was not his own.

“It began with my daughter,” he says, “who is now 11 and was then 4, having a nightmare. I went upstairs and heard her crying and she said: ‘Wolves came out of the wall. They took over the house. It was real. I can show you the place in the wallpaper they came out from.’ She spent a couple of days rather worried about this. I would tell her little stories about wolves just to try to stop her worrying. I started thinking, it’s a proper story. It took me about three
goes to get
it right, mostly because I knew what would make it would be the tone of voice rather than the story itself.”

So the National Theatre of Scotland’s inaugural production was literally dreamt up by a four-year-old. The company could not announce any more boldly that it means to provide challenging theatre for everyone. “The idea was that it would always be a children’s opera,” says Gaiman, “but we decided that the word was incredibly intimidating. It sounds like something you are going to have to endure rather than enjoy, so I decided to call it ‘a musical pandemonium’ instead.” This makes sense. Gaiman has spent an entire career scaring the bejesus out of his audience, but using the “O” word might have scared them off altogether.

The Wolves in the Walls is a co-production with Improbable Theatre, whose best known show is the award-winning ghoulish family entertainment, Shockheaded Peter. It is Improbable’s Julian Crouch, who also designed the family unfriendly Jerry Springer: The Opera, who will supply the silhouettes of wolves stalking the luminous walls. Nick Powell provides the songs, and the show is directed by Vicky Featherstone, the NTS’s artistic director.

As for Gaiman, apart from turning his hand to writing lyrics wherever the show requires them, his has been what he calls “a lurching in-and-out involvement: 50 per cent approving observer and 50 per cent instant collaborator”. Indeed his initial contribution was an act of selflessness very rare among writers, even the nicest of whom have egos to nurse. “Very very early on in the process when we were putting the contract together and getting Improbable the rights to Wolves…, I actually wound up having to fight for their right to fire me, which was very strange. I discovered that my agents were insisting I was going to be the writer. I had to phone up and say, ‘Absolutely not, I want them to be able to fire me at any point if this isn’t working.’ ”

He doesn’t sound like it, but Gaiman is one of the most successful British authors alive. His website has a mindboggling half a million hits a month, mostly from people who have no idea how many pies he has his fingers in. “It’s the curse of being ubiquitous. If you’re going to have the kind of career that people take seriously it would probably be much better to go back in time and advise myself not to be all over the place. You have that weird Jonathan Miller scenario. What is he really?”

What is Gaiman really? Where do we start? The common denominator of his generic roaming is fantasy. Before his imagination was fertilised by the study of mythology, theology and other arcana, it had its first proper stimulus in the theatre, and in the most unlikely corner of it. “As a nine-year-old I somehow managed to talk my parents into taking me up to Sadler’s Wells a lot to go to see Gilbert and Sullivan. I was lucky in getting to bump into people such as Gilbert and strange forgotten authors and discovering a real love of words and what they could do.”

Later, at school in Croydon, he vividly recalls a meeting with the careers adviser. “He said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to write American comics.’ He stared at me and said, ‘How do you do that then?’ I said, ‘I have no idea; you’re the careers adviser.’ He said, ‘Have you ever thought about accountancy?’ ” Once Gaiman had got a career in journalism out of the way, he kicked off in comics, the presiding monument being the Sandman series he drip-fed to DC Comics over eight years. He “discovered very rapidly the amazing power of serial narrative, of giving people a little bit of story at a time”.

He branched out into comic fantasy fiction with Good Omens, written with Terry Pratchett. When Neverwhere didn’t work as a BBC drama, he turned it into his first novel “as a director’s cut – to go, ‘No, this is what I meant’.” American Gods was his first novel proper. And then he turned to children’s fiction.

As those in the audience for The Wolves in the Walls will discover, he tends to give no quarter when writing for children. He was delighted and surprised by a review for Anansi Boys which said, ” ‘This is one of Gaiman’s novels for adults which means it’s far less threatening’: I felt that’s very perceptive. I hadn’t realised that. I tend to talk up to kids. I tend to assume that they are smart and perfectly capable of coping with whatever I’m throwing in their direction.”

The Wolves in the Walls, Tramway Theatre, Glasgow (www.tramway.org 0845 3303501) previews from tonight-Apr 8
–Jasper Rees


“Where’s Neil When You Need Him?”

From the March 22, 2006 Billboard:

An album inspired by the work of prolific author Neil Gaiman will be released this summer by Philadelphia-based independent label Dancing Ferret Discs. The project, tentatively titled “Where’s Neil When You Need Him?,” is expected to arrive July 18, according to Dancing Ferret principal Patrick Rodgers.

Rodgers, who is came up with the album’s concept and is acting as music supervisor, asked artists he knew were fans of the writer to compose material based on their favorite Gaiman character or story. Some fashioned songs after his more popular work, such as the comic book series “The Sandman,” while others took their inspiration from such rare pieces as his short story “The Goldfish Pool.”

The most high-profile contributor to the compilation is Tori Amos, a longtime friend of Gaiman’s who occasionally name-checks the writer in her lyrics. In fact, the album’s working title is a line taken from her song “Space Dog.” The track “Sister Named Desire,” which Amos originally recorded as a B-side for a European release, has been re-recorded for the album. “She was one of the first to come on board,” Rodgers says.

Among the 17 expected contributors are goth/metal band Tapping The Vein, medieval rockers Schandmaul, electronic act ThouShaltNot, the Cruxshadows and trip-hip group Lunascape.

According to Rodgers, the project is being assembled with the approval of Gaiman, who is writing the liner notes for the CD, while collaborator Dave McKean is creating its artwork. My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way is writing the introduction.

“Where’s Neil When You Need Him?” will be sold at traditional retail outlets as well as comic book stores.
–Christa L. Titus


Feature – The Herald

From the 21st March Herald:

When Neil Gaiman lands on Skye this week, his visit will be more a comic-book adventure than a holiday. Rather than play the tourist, the maverick writer of gothic horror comics will be on a mission.

His more recent big-screen outing, Mirrormask, directed by long-term visual partner Dave McKean, has just opened. But with his next film, Stardust, Gaiman is on a reconnaissance expedition to find some suitably dark places to act as locations. This adaptation of an adult fairy tale, first published in the late 1990s, is set to be shot on the island (by way of Iceland and Pinewood Studios) and will star Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Somewhere along the way, Gaiman will also jet into Tramway, where the National Theatre of Scotland is rehearsing the stage adaptation of his children’s book, The Wolves In The Walls. This tale of one little girl’s discovery of a pack of hairy monsters living inside her bedroom walls has become a firm favourite among adventurous young readers. Now the genesis of the stage version itself is something of a fairy tale.

Once upon a time, back when NTS director Vicky Featherstone was at the helm of the Paines Plough company, she got chatting with Julian Crouch, whose o
ffic
e with Improbable Theatre was next door. Both parents of young children, the pair discovered their progeny were lapping up Gaiman’s yarn. Given Improbable’s already adventurous remit, which brought the junkyard gothic of Shockheaded Peter to the stage, the opportunity for a big adventure proved irresistible.

“They both came across the book independently,” says Gaiman. “Separately, they both thought it would be a good idea to make it into a stage play. We all met up in a hotel lobby in Covent Garden, and I trusted Vicky and Julian instantly. I mean, you’d give Vicky the keys to your house. “But I’ve been pretty hands-on with it all,” Gaiman admits. “More so than any other adaptation.”

Gaiman was half aware of Crouch’s work on Shockheaded Peter, which one thinks of instantly in terms of scary stories. The difference, as Gaiman sees it, is that Shockheaded Peter was “an entertainment for adults, which isn’t intended to entertain children”.

The Wolves In The Walls is strictly for kids. This becomes obvious in the figures of the wolves themselves. Far from predatory Red Riding Hood beasts, these creatures turn out to be the wolfish equivalent of tearaway Chavs.
The subtitle, A Musical Pandemonium, is Gaiman’s way of making what’s essentially opera for kids sound hip to under-10s, but the show’s musical credentials are impeccable.

Gaiman’s work has made frequent allusions to Joy Division songs, while the film adaptation of another children’s book, Coraline, looks set to feature a soundtrack by They Might Be Giants. Gaiman himself has written lyrics for bands, and has even found himself the subject of songs by kookmistress Tori Amos. Which should make composer Nick Powell – a veteran of theatre companies such as Suspect Culture and Paines Plough, and cult bands Strangelove and The Blue Aeroplanes – the perfect collaborator for Gaiman.

“Nick’s brilliant at what he does,” Gaiman praises, “but when you first meet this slightly nervy character, you wonder what you’re going to get. Then you realise that all this leaving computers on the bus or whatever is part of the process, and you end up with this beautiful music. In the book, the Dad plays the tuba. Now, finding an actor who plays the tuba probably isn’t easy, but I love the fact we’ve got Iain Johnstone who does play the tuba, and is an amazing actor as well.”

Gaiman talks precisely, punctuating each word in a manner which, as a young man, might easily have seen him marked out as an over-earnest, slightly dreamy Dungeons and Dragons-playing anorak. Whether or not that was the case, his back-catalogue has crossed over into literary waters normally out of bounds to comic-book writers.

Gaiman is one of a generation of British writers whose success in the fantastical world of comic books, graphic novels and now big-budget films would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

Gaiman’s arrival on the scene was marked by Sandman, a series hailed by American heavyweight Norman Mailer as “comic books for intellectuals”. The mid-1990s TV series
Neverwhere (with Edinburgh-born actor Gary Bakewell in the lead) introduced a wider audience to Gaiman’s vision. More recently, on the big screen, Gaiman has developed an adaptation of Beowulf with Quentin Tarantino collaborator Roger Avery, while the Bank of Scotland Herald-Angel winning and Sundance Festival-acclaimed Mirrormask has hit paydirt.

Given that Mirrormask similarly explores the nightmare world conjured up by a troubled teenage girl’s imagination, it’s no surprise the roots of The Wolves In The Walls comes from the nocturnal wanderings of Gaiman’s own daughter, Maddy.

“One night she woke up crying, and she swore blind these wolves were living there,” Gaiman says, “and I said no, you’re just imagining it. She said, no, I’m not, I can prove it, they’re really there, so she even showed me the exact spot on the wallpaper which they were living behind. So it all started as a little family thing, and ended up as The Wolves In The Walls. I wanted to write a book about fear, and about facing up to that fear.”

Whether The Wolves In The Walls will end up, like so many of Gaiman’s works, on the big screen, remains to be seen. One offer, however, has already been turned down.
“They wanted to put the wolves on skis and things like that,” Gaiman says. “We didn’t think that would be appropriate, so we said no. But if the right offer came along I’m sure we could work something out.”

One way or another, Gaiman’s imagination should keep the wolf from the door a while yet.
–Neil Cooper


Wolves in the Walls (Theater) – Feature – Scotsman

From the 18th March Scotsman:

If anyone expected the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) to play it safe, they did not reckon with the audacity of artistic director Vicky Featherstone. Last month’s launch project, Home – ten shows in ten venues scattered around the country – was nothing if not daring in conception. Now, for her own NTS debut, she has chosen not a play but a musical adaptation of a children’s picture book – one that will require boundless ingenuity.

Published in 2003, The Wolves in the Walls is a dark fairy-tale by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. It’s about Lucy, a little girl who is disturbed by “scrambling rambling rustling” noises in her house. It’s just bats, asserts her big brother. Mice, insists her mother. Rats, confirms her father. But Lucy isn’t so sure. And as everyone knows: “if the wolves come out of the walls, then it’s all over”. The tale that follows is in the mould of classic children’s fiction: a fantastical fable about confronting fear.

English-born and US-based, Gaiman is a prolific and highly successful author of novels, screenplays, song lyrics and above all comic books.

His collaborators have included novelist Terry Pratchett, comedian Lenny Henry, singer-songwriter Tori Amos and geek-rock band They Might be Giants; while his many admirers include literary lion Norman Mailer. McKean also has a major following as a comic-book artist; and has designed CD covers for such musical luminaries as Alice Cooper and Michael Nyman. Last year he made his debut as a film director with MirrorMask, another Gaiman collaboration.

Gaiman and McKean have worked together frequently since 1987, and have developed a distinctive style of graphic novel in which text and illustrations are closely integrated. Their children’s books began with Coraline (2002) and have attracted a new, youthful following. Featherstone was not familiar with the Gaiman/McKean phenomenon until she discovered Wolves in the Walls.

“I came across it completely innocently, buying a book for my little boy,” she explains. “He was four at the time – he’s six now and his brother is four – and they love it. It’s got so much movement in it and so much dynamism that I thought it would be really good for theatre. I also thought it was quite an exciting statement for us, to start with something which was for any audience member at all, not just for adults.”

Over the past year, she has been developing the project with a few trusted colleagues. Nick Powell – known to Scotland’s theatre-goers for his work with Suspect Culture – was enlisted as composer. Julian Crouch of Improbable Theatre – best known for Shockheaded Peter (1998) – came in as designer and co-director. Steve Hoggett of the physical theatre company Frantic Assembly was hired as choreographer.

Gaiman has also been an eager co-conspirator, attending development sessions and staying in touch by e-mail from his home in Minneapolis. “He’s been part of the whole process,” says Featherstone. “We’ve said to him, ‘We think it would be really good if we had some lyrics for t
his
bit’ – and by return of e-mail overnight we get more lyrics. It’s been really exciting.”

McKean is not directly involved, but his visual style will be present in spirit. “We’re not trying to emulate it directly, but what Julian’s really interested in are the layers in his style, which is a mixture of two-dimensional and three-dimensional effects. That’s what we’ve tried to play with.”

After opening in Glasgow, the show will tour to London, Perth, Stirling, Kirkcaldy and Ayr, with a second tour already booked for the autumn. A portable set was essential; but Crouch’s stand-alone construction goes further. “It opens up exciting possibilities for us to tour it really widely throughout Scotland, in places that aren’t necessarily conventional theatres,” says Featherstone.

The company is now hard at work, putting flesh on the bones of what they’re calling “a musical pandemonium”. Cora Bissett, who plays Lucy’s mother, admits rehearsals have been exacting. “It is quite hard when it’s going forward on all fronts – and, unlike a standard musical, it’s all been devised from scratch. The only blueprint we had was the book.”

Of the eight performers four are cast as humans, the other four as wolves. But if you’re picturing pantomime cows, think again: the aim is to be utterly terrifying, using a combination of costumes, movement and puppetry. Actor and musician Iain Johnstone, cast as Lucy’s father, reveals a key strategy. “Everything is declared,” he says. “That was the great breakthrough: when we stopped trying to hide the mechanics and started to show them we became very secure in the world that we were in. As long as you believe it’s all possible, and that’s writ large in your reactions, everybody else will buy it.”

Johnstone should know. As joint founding director of Wee Stories – one of several Scottish companies making excellent theatre for children – he understands the demands of a young audience. “That audience doesn’t lie,” he says. “It doesn’t know how to behave itself. So you’re learning from the audience all the time and constantly tweaking the show. And I think it’s going to be the same with this show.”

Wee Stories has just signed a three-year co-production deal with NTS – another signal that Featherstone is embracing audiences of all ages. It’s one of countless schemes she’s been hatching since taking up the post in November 2004. With all these plans finally coming to fruition, how does she feel? “Exhausted,” she says, laughing. “No, I’m really thrilled, actually. I’m delighted that it’s now in the public domain: once you go into production it makes it all real. The thing that’s been hardest is having to deliver so quickly, because the question of the National Theatre of Scotland has been around for so long. Even though it seems like it’s been ages coming, it’s actually relatively quick to have to set up the whole organisation and deliver this kind of work.”

She managed to attend seven of the ten Home performances and, not surprisingly, declares the project a great success. “I really was very pleased with what it achieved,” she says. “It was about the community that we created it for, and it enabled those directors to work in a way they hadn’t worked before. And everybody knew that we’d started.” If their wolves are as wild as the ones conjured up by Gaiman and McKean, there’ll be no stopping them.
–Roger Cox


Wolves in the Walls (Theater) – Feature – Evening Times

From the 8th March Evening Times:

Former soap star Ryan Fletcher admits breathing a sigh of relief when he landed a key role in the new National Theatre of Scotland production. Ryan, 22, who played Vader in River City, is set to star in scary Wolves In the Walls for the prestigious company. But he feared having to take a regular job after leaving the soap opera.

“There was a bit of panic after the TV thing fizzled out because there isn’t acting life for most people who have left River City. “I have to pay the rent and I’d hate having to go out and get a job working with calculators all day.”

There seems little chance of that for Blantyre-born Ryan, who caught the acting bug when he starred as Fagin in a school production. Panto success at the Pavilion convinced boss Iain Gordon that Ryan has “a brilliant stage presence”.

Based on a children’s story, The Wolves in The Walls tells the tale of Lucy, who realises there are wolves in the walls of her house. But the rest of her family are too caught up in themselves to notice. Ryan plays her brother who is always busy playing computer games.

At the audition Ryan revealed he is a musician, and also sings – the NTS’s first theatre-staged piece is a hybrid musical. “I get to perform a big rock number, a sort of Alice Cooper-like song that blows everyone away.”

Ryan was once part of Fame Academy and his music career with band Merchant City could be about to take off. “We’ve made a demo with ex-Simple Minds guitarist Mick McNeil in Glasgow and we’ll let radio stations hear it soon,” he said.

Ryan’s girlfriend and former River City co-star Laura McMon-agle has teamed up with Jade Lezar for a Eurovision bid, coming third in the race to represent the UK. “You have to keep your options open,” said Ryan.

Wolves in the Walls runs at the Tramway from March 25-April 8, then at the Lyric in Hammersmith.
–Brian Beacom


Clippings

From the 23rd March Icelandic Review:

Filming for the Hollywood movie Stardust starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro will start in Iceland next weekend.

Substantial parts of the movie were to be filmed in Iceland but it seems that horses might keep the movie stars away..

Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes, Sienna Miller and Charlie Cox are among the stars in this Matthew Vaughn-directed adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel.

Morgunbladid reports that horses also have a major role in this Paramount project but unfortunately it is illegal to import horses to Iceland.

“This really puts a spanner in the works,” said Helga Margrét Reykdal, managing director of movie production company TrueNorth, local partner for the Stardust team.

Helga said that they had spoken to “relevant parties” but it appeared that the Icelandic horse was especially vulnerable to disease because it had been isolated for so many centuries and therefor people were afraid to import horses.

“This will be the first day of filming. They are coming to film winter scenes and will then continue filming in the U.K. Regarding future filming, they are interested in shooting most of the film in Iceland but horses play a big part in the movie and transporting them to the country is not allowed. That is why people are weighing the alternatives. At the moment we do not know if the project has a future here in Iceland.”

“Maybe they will be forced to find another solution, other then coming to Iceland, even though this is their dream place,” said Helga.

The filming will take place near Höfn in Hornafjördur. For this round of filming none of the star-studded crew will come to Iceland.

And I would have thought that the solution would involve using Icelandic horses instead, but they are probably too small (and too rare) for the purpose.


From the 23rd March Herald:

The news will come too late for the many new readers of The Herald that have found our online edition through their enthusiasm for the work
of writer
Neil Gaiman, but the man himself will be in Glasgow on Saturday.

It is already well-documented that Gaiman’s fanbase has been in touch from across the Atlantic about the National Theatre of Scotland production of The Wolves in the Wall at Glasgow Tramway – and has helped secure US dates for the new national company’s very first theatre show. Following Neil Cooper’s interview with him in Tuesday’s Herald, it has been confirmed that Gaiman will take part in a post-show discussion after Saturday’s performance. The preview is priced at £7 with £4 concessions or £18 for a family ticket (two adults/two children).
–Keith Bruce

[Ed note: Please be at the New Vic, please be at the New Vic…no, honestly, it’s a gorgeous little jewelbox of a theater with bees on the seats (and lots of boosters available), barely any bad sight lines, lockers so you don’t have to lug your stuff around, a clock in the basement that only tells time if you’re not paying close attention, and a core audience that will let you know how bored they are by kicking the back of your chair. Repeatedly. Which can be won over by enormous inflatable flying things, usually. But then, so can we all.]