The Wind in the Willows review - December 2014
A Genuinely Charming ProductionThe Royal Opera House’s production of The Wind in the Willows was the company’s first ever commercial transfer, playing at the Duchess Theatre last year and moving to the Vaudeville Theatre for this Christmas season. It even won an Olivier this year for Best Entertainment and Family show. This is the classiest and slickest family Christmas outing you’re likely to have, and not a shabby bit of tinsel in sight. (Apologies to tinsel lovers!)
The production is a unique addition to the West End. It’s an interesting combination of ballet style dance, poetry, puppetry and live orchestral music which brings the much loved tale to life.
There’s no dialogue apart from narration from Alan Titchmarsh - yes, THE Alan Titchmarsh from the ‘90s sensation that was Groundforce. He leads the production and he’s surprisingly talented. He plays the book’s author Kenneth Grahame, narrating the show as a troupe of exceptional performers physically play the characters. His warm and gentle West Yorkshire accent fits with the tone of the show perfectly, and his reactions to the cheekiness of his characters are a joy to watch. I was genuinely surprised that this was his West End debut - who knows, maybe he’ll be the next Hamlet?
Stage design from the Quay Brothers gives the show a truly magical feel. It’s set in Kenneth Grahame’s attic, where he stumbles upon a battered copy of his own book The Wind in the Willows and offers to read it to us. He brings his characters to life and they playfully pull the set from cupboard drawers and old leather trunks; a fabric lake, a boat that Ratty wears round his waist, and even a giant chair which doubles as Toad’s prison cell. The set design is magical, gentle and mischievous – it looks like a story book. Yippie!
The real selling point is the spectacular dance choreographed by the show’s director Will Tuckett, Guest Principal Character Artist at the Royal Ballet. It’s creative and playful, and a perfect introduction to dance for young children. Adults who love dance will be impressed by the skill of the performers and the bold decision to put ballet in a family show.
If you’re unaware that this isn’t a traditional adaptation then you might be disappointed. There’s no dialogue between characters; everything is expressed through music, dance and simple narration. This isn’t a loud, all singing all dancing West End performance that you can whoop and wail along to. It’s a genuinely charming production that is sure to become as synonymous with Christmas theatre as ‘The Snowman’.
3 December 2014, Vaudeville Theatre