December 17, 2013 5:45 pm

The Wind in the Willows, Duchess Theatre, London – review

This amusing, touching dance-drama is a welcome Christmas treat for almost all ages
'The Wind in the Willows'©Johan Persson

'The Wind in the Willows'

I think it tremendous fun. Here, as a most welcome Christmas treat – amusing but also heart-touching – is Will Tuckett’s version of The Wind in the Willows as dance-drama, and an entertainment for almost all ages (if not the teeniest ankle-biters) given with great ingenuity, real charm. And not a dull moment.

First seen a few years ago in Covent Garden’s Linbury Theatre, this jolly and imaginative account of Kenneth Grahame’s childhood masterpiece has now set up house a few hundred metres away. What we see, and delight to see, is Tuckett’s production cunningly extended, its witty Quay Brothers design of a mysterious and crowded attic happily establishing every location and character, the Martin-Ward- after-George-Butterworth score well played by a chamber ensemble, and a finely-imagined narration by Andrew Motion (worth every instant of your attention) splendidly done by Tony Robinson. Robinson is our guide as Kenneth Grahame, the motive force of the evening, and admirable in all things. Leading us through the tale, establishing mood, he relishes Motion’s text, and remains an avuncular figure whom a young public will surely adore, and their minders trust.

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A not-so-secret Herod fan, I enjoyed the event very much, for its ingenuities (Mole burrows out from a rolled-up carpet; the Weasels are Teddy-boy punks) and for its beguiling confidence in creating a world from its found-in-the-attic objects, and for the bright imagery of Motion’s words. (Their relationship with the score has faintest echoes of the Britten/Auden Night Mail.) Performances were a delight. Much admiration for Will Kemp as Ratty, for Cris Penfold as Toad, for Clemmie Sveaas as Mole, for Christopher Akrill as Badger and Ewan Wardrop as Otter, and for a skilled ensemble of dance-actors. There are also convulsingly manic puppets as denizens of the Wild Wood, and a delightfully surprising carol scene.

The staging is one in which you and your young will delight. But you must also give Grahame’s story to your offspring to read, and maybe read it again yourself. (Though the effect, I found after too many years away, was pretty wrenching.)


duchesstheatre.co.uk

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