The essence of Neil Gaiman's cult picture book The Wolves in the Walls is that like monsters under the bed, forgotten childhood terrors are only a darkened room away. What works on the heavily illustrated page, however, is not so easy to transfer to the stage, but this, it seems, is just the kind of high-risk venture which the new National Theatre for Scotland is looking for. Their "Musical Pandemonium", co-produced with the ever-inventive Improbable Theatre, has all the hallmarks of a bold statement of intent that strikes just the right note between edginess and populism.
Co-directors Vicky Featherstone and Julian Crouch tap into the surreal waking dream of Gaiman's novel, building it into a nightmare of terrifying, irrational proportions.
Lucy - an excellent Frances Thorburn - is bored. With a tuba-playing dad, a Martha Stewart of a mum, and a video-game-obsessed teenage brother, her only companions are favourite toy Pig Puppet and the four walls. But all games stop when she hears wolves thronging behind the wallpaper.
As Lucy draws on the walls, video projections trace out her scary imaginings in metre-high scribbles of steely-toothed wolves. Dad says it's mice; Mum says it's rats. Only little girls hear wolves. But as everyone ominously says, "When the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over."
Gaiman's picture book has been deftly re-imagined on an ever-changing set inspired by book illustration and animation. The first 20 minutes are perhaps a little stilted, but as soon as the hessian puppet wolves emerge snarling and howling from their wallpapered confinement, the dreamscape suddenly becomes utterly convincing.
The lupine comedy, brilliantly realised by skilful puppeteers, heightens as the rampant wild wolves of the walls become domesticated, from middle-class lair-makers to breakdancing teen wolves. And beneath it all is a dark undertow of family dislocation, fear of the unknown and protection of one's own. As the wolves cower back into the walls, there is an uncomfortable suggestion that we, like Lucy, will always be able to conjure up new "threats". What's the time, Mr Wolf? It's always dinner time.
To 8 April (0845 330 3501); then Lyric Hammersmith, London W9 (0870 050 0511) 12 to 29 April; and Scottish tour to 20 MayReuse content