Pros: The absolutely stunning staging and the portrayal of the animal characters.
Cons: The show failed to grip the younger members of the audience. Although visually wonderful, I can see it would be hard for children to follow the choreography and story throughout the two acts.
The Wind in the Willows is a Christmas children show based on Kenneth’s Grahame classic story by the same name. With music selected from the works of English composer George Butterworth, The Wind in the Willows transports the audience at the Duchess Theatre into a world where animals dance, get in trouble and above all, remain friends no matter what.
Grahame wrote the story for his only son, Alistair, and even based some of the characters around him. As such, the play opens with actor Tony Robinson playing Grahame, introducing us to the attic where the stories were born, and to the animals that take part in them. We meet the sleepy Mole, played by Clemmie Sveaas, and together with Grahame, we go out to the riverbank where Mole meets Ratty (Will Kemp), a sailor on the river. Moments later, mischievous Toad (Cris Penfold) appears and the group set off on a train journey. Toad decides to chase after a fascinating thing called a motorcar, leaving Mole and Ratty to peacefully rest. However, it’s not long before Toad gets into trouble and Mole runs to the rescue, hunted by dangerous weasels along the way. He is saved by Ratty and together they head to see Badger (Christopher Akrill) to try figure out what to do with Toad. In Act Two, Toad is standing trial before a marionette judge, and is sentenced to prison for his reckless behavior with the motorcar. Luckily, the jailor’s daughter (Ewan Wardrop) falls for Toad and lets him go. The group is reunited to fight against the Weasels, who have taken over their home.
Throughout the story, it is Robinson in his role as Grahame who is narrating the events and the action. The animals themselves never utter a word, dancing and miming on stage accompanied by the beautiful classical music and Robinson’s words and rhymes. In the first scene, we are introduced to the attic, filled with old furniture, chests and a big dusty beam. All these elements suddenly become trains and ponds, Badger’s home, a deep forest. Green threads of fabric hanging from the beam make the willow, always present in every scene. The animals and their costumes reminded me of Beatrix Potter’s tales, each one dressed according to their personality: Toad in a shiny red suit, Mole in glasses and a brown, ragged outfit. There are ducks, foxes, weasels… all dressed in the same fashion.
Overall the show was absolutely stunning to watch. The choreography and acting from Penfold, Sveaas, Kemp and Akrill flowed and transported the audience. Robinson as Grahame made one feel as though an old friend was telling the story, and the audience became eager children, hanging on his every word. The evocative setting and music completed the experience, transporting everyone into what felt to be an illustration from a classic children’s book. At one point, carolers came on stage and snow started to rain over us. However, the younger members of the audience did not seem very interested. I can see how the classical take on music and choreography might have failed to grip them throughout the two acts. This may not be the show for under ten year olds, who might loose interest in a more traditional take on a Christmas story but otherwise, a fantastic family trip to the theatre.
Author: Kenneth Grahame
Director & Choreographer: Will Tuckett
Producer: Royal Opera House
Box Office: 0845 505 8500
Booking Link: http://www.roh.org.uk/productions/the-wind-in-the-willows-by-will-tuckett
Booking Until: 1st February 2013