The Royal Opera House’s creative adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s iconic novel provides a light-hearted evening’s entertainment. A cluttered attic springs to life as it is transformed into the pastoral woodlands that are home to the animals who tell the story through dance, puppetry and song. It’s an eclectic mix of art forms that befits The Vaudeville Theatre’s heritage in, well, vaudeville. Guiding us through the performance is the narrator, Alan Titchmarsh, who makes his West End debut in The Wind in the Willows.
The most striking thing about The Wind in the Willows is the flexible set design by The Quay Brothers. It’s a real treat for the eyes, especially when combined with Warren Letton’s atmospheric lighting, effectively transporting us through the colours of different seasons.
Alan Titchmarsh has the only real speaking part, previously played by Sir Tony Robinson. It’s a tough act to follow. While not an especially onerous role, Titchmarsh does a satisfactory job; the face of Ground Force is aptly suited for England’s quaint woodlands.
The musical score by Martin Ward was, for me, a disappointment. While there were moments where it felt well-crafted, such as the wonderfully chaotic scene where Toad gets his motorcar and the more tranquil introductory scene, it’s otherwise rather dull and highly repetitive.
Nevertheless, the cast were consistently brilliant and this provided a great showcase for some of the new talent in British theatre. Mole’s meek persona and constant look of bemusement clashed fantastically with Toad’s frantic, slightly scary energy. Solid performances from Sonya Cullingford as Mole and Martin Harvey as Ratty, and with stand-out performances from Ira Mandela Siobhan as Badger, Cris Penfold as Toad, and Jessica Ellen in the supporting cast.
Will Tuckett’s direction and choreography brings out the individuality of each animal effectively. While not especially dramatic, it serves to characterise their personalities and engage the audience with sprinklings of humour and plenty of innocent charm.
Also deserving of a specific mention are Toby Olié’s puppets. They are sinister but strangely endearing at the same time. The judge puppet, in particular, is suitably grotesque and sure to catch your attention.
Overall, The Wind in the Willows doesn’t demand much from the audience. It’s very watchable but lacks the sense of depth provided by the original novel and the lovely 1983 film. However, it’s undeniably heart-warming and sure to delight young audiences in particular; I think all of us in the audience loved the carol singing and “snow” scene. With an Olivier Award under its belt, The Wind in the Willows promises to be a good choice for a family trip to the theatre.
Review by Samuel Lickiss
The Wind In The Willows
Join Badger, Ratty, Mole and the irrepressible Toad on their adventures.
From lazy days on the riverbank, to speeding cars, a jail break and criminal deeds cooked up in the Wild Wood, this critically-acclaimed production lovingly brings Kenneth Grahame’s masterpiece vividly to life. Told through narration, dance and song, colourful costumes and masterful puppetry, The Wind in the Willows is the perfect festive treat for all the family.
Choreographer and Director Will Tuckett, Composer Martin Ward, Narration Andrew Motion, Set designs The Quay Brothers, Costume designs Nicky Gillibrand, Lighting design Warren Letton, Puppet designs Toby Olié.
Orchestra CHROMA, Narrator – Alan Titchmarsh, Mole – Sonya Cullingford, Ratty – Martin Harvey, Badger – Ira Mandela Siobhan, Toad – Cris Penfold.
The Wind In The Willows
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Age Restrictions: Suitable for ages 5+
Show Opened: 26th November 2014
Booking Until: 17th January 2015
Thursday 4th December 2014