WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House
Last show of the year, 180th audience I've joined in 2012, and a special treat, the chance to catch up at last with Will Tuckett's enchanting Wind in the Willows deep under the Royal Opera House in the Linbury Studio.
Loads of very young children in the audience, and they loved it, despite very few concessions being made to tender years. There was a literate, poetical narrative [written by Andrew Motion, no less, pastoral often, but with urgent Night Mail rhythms for the exciting dénouement] and plenty of theatrical magic – butterflies on mittens, snowfall on the stalls for the carol singing, and a wardrobe which disgorged the river. And through the wardrobe, not Narnia but Toad's gypsy caravan. The police pursuit of the errant Mr Toad, in his little motor, was conducted through the crowded foyer in the interval ...
The storyteller was Kenneth Grahame himself [Anthony McGill], guiding us through the story and watching it unfold from his favourite armchair in the attic.
The music, played by a chamber ensemble, was inspired by George Butterworth, composed by Martin Ward and conducted by Tim Murray. There were songs, as well as dance, a pantomime dame for the Gaoler's Daughter, even some Morris Dance work with handkerchiefs, and all the unforgettable characters from the riverbank.
Will Kemp was a superb Ratty, pipe clenched between his teeth, nicely contrasted with Clemmie Sveass's modest, myopic Mole. Tom Woods made a wise old Badger, and Cris Penfold's Toad was an amazing creation, assuming a brilliant physical persona which exactly matched the character Grahame's created. All the creatures were much more human than animal; just a hint of make-up, a suggestion of fur. The weasels were strutting teddyboys, the stoats, and the judge, beautifully animated puppets.
The whole experience held us all – from the tiniest to the most cynical – enthralled, captivated by this Edwardian fantasy fable – "a world at once impossible and true".