28 December 2003

While Cinderella occupies the main stage, William Tuckett’s delightful adaptation of The Wind in the Willows is back down below, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, for its second season. This is a treat for all ages, though small children might not keep up with the poet laureate Andrew Motion’s verse narrative. But it is a bonus, this time around, to have an actor, David Burke — a cosy presence, a clear delivery — speaking it. Dowell, last year’s narrator, was less of a natural. Martin Ward’s music, based on melodies by the countryside composer George Butterworth, tugs at the heart with a nostalgia for those heady days on the riverbank, but builds up with brio for the fights and chases. The Quay Brothers’ clever sets and props are attic junk, including a most versatile wardrobe that ingeniously transforms into fabric river, caravan, weasels’ lair, prison and train; and Toad’s honking motorcar, worn around his waist like a skirt, has the kids’ eyes out on stalks.

Tuckett’s choreography and mime action are characterful, pacy and witty. All the cast, dancers and singers, are excellent. Will Kemp, a big favourite, has returned as the rakishly heroic Ratty; as has Luke Heydon, in various roles, including the hilariously sluttish jailer’s daughter. Matthew Hart, the original, brilliant Toad, was off sick the night I went, but Tuckett played it with relish — popping eyes, flickering tongue and all.