Ah, England! Lanes winding through the shires, decent country folk, the wind in the willows. Choreographer William Tuckett has amply realised this English myth in his charming production of Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s tale. Narrator Michele Wade is a mumsy storyteller in a frumpy frock and sensible shoes; the cast of animals sport drab tweeds and plus-fours. Mole (Charlotte Broom) is a wide-eyed innocent, Ratty (Nikolas Kafetzakis) her stolid protector, and Badger (Richard Curto) an ambling uncle. Only Toad (Ewan Wardrop) is flashy, a hammy little lord of the manor in loud yellow breeches.
the friends save the day, and the baddies – basically cars and teenagers – are banished
Their idyllic existence is disturbed by the arrival of a motor car, honking noisily and freezing rabbits in its headlights. Worse, Toad Hall is invaded by Weasels and Stoats – rockers with denims and spiky hair. But, naturally, the friends save the day, and the baddies – basically cars and teenagers – are banished.
Set to music by Martin Ward, based on the nostalgic folky compositions of Edwardian composer George Butterworth, this production is not merely tweedy but sometimes perilously twee. It’s saved by excellent character dancing, boisterous pantomime farce, and a few magical moments: the arrival of carol singers with lanterns, snow falling on the audience.
But none of these would work without the inspired designs by the Brothers Quay. By the simplest of means they transform a cluttered attic into a world of make-believe: a tablecloth rolls out into a river, a wardrobe doubles as a Gypsy caravan, an upended chair becomes a prison cell. That leap between the everyday and the imaginary is second nature to the young children for whom The Wind in the Willows is made; and if adults may sometimes gag, they can’t help but be transported, too.