Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad. Those names read together stir up affectionate memories for anybody familiar with The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame’s fantastic riverbank tales.
The beloved book was adapted for the stage 10 years ago by choreographer Will Tuckett for the Royal Opera House. This season The Wind in the Willows is at Duchess Theatre, marking the first time an ROH production has been commercially transferred to the West End.
With its low ceilings and cosy ambience, the Duchess Theatre creates the perfect setting for what feels like a bedtime story conjured up from a dusty old attic by the author himself (played by Tony Robinson).
There’s shy Mole unfurling from her carpet burrow, proud Ratty rowing along on his river boat, cantankerous Badger we meet a few scenes later, but it’s Toad who leaps onto the stage and sets the action alight.
The drama centres around the irrepressible Toad, who’s always on the hunt for the next shiny new toy. After his reckless driving lands him in jail (with a ludicrous sentence), Toad breaks out but discovers that the Stoats (played comically as Dennis the Menace style baddies) have taken over Toad Hall. So he makes a daring plan with Badger, Mole and Ratty to win back his home.
The story is told through a mix of Robinson’s narration (beautifully crafted by poet Andrew Motion) and balletic dance, live music and puppetry. The main characters are all dressed as people, rather than wearing masks or animal costumes, but they embody their characters so well my 4-year-old could identify each one immediately.
The pace starts gently but picks up with stabs of lively comedy, chase sequences and very colourful use of props — we loved how an upturned over-sized chair became a jail for Toad.
And of course the motorcar steals the limelight, particularly in the interval when Toad is still on the rampage!
The Wind in the Willows at Duchess Theatre is a nostalgic treat for any generation and the boys were riveted from start to finish. The next day, I found Ezra curled up on the sofa with the book, lost again in Grahame’s wild and wonderful woods.
What the Babes Said
Ezra, aged 7 and three quarters
I thought it was an amazing, hilarious, action-movie like show. I would rate it 5 out of 5!
Jed, aged 4 and three quarters
I liked the car, and the dance and I give it 10 out of 10!
The Wind in the Willows is at The Duchess Theatre, 3-5 Catherine St, WC2 (Covent Garden tube). Recommended for ages 5+ (I reckon ages 3+ would enjoy it). Shows at 7pm (Mon-Tue, Thu & Sun); 2.30pm & 7pm (Wed, Fri & Sat); £15-£50 (Dec 11-Feb 1)
Production photos: Johan Persson