Monday, January 27, 2014


Royal Opera House at the Duchess Theatre


Covent Garden's Christmas treat transferred to the West End [a first, this, I think] and starring the inimitable Tony Robinson [in his first stage role in ages]. As last year down in the LinburyStudio, it is a magical production combining dance, music and narration.

The avuncular Robinson, as magician/author Kenneth Grahame, seems very much at home in his attic study, gesturing with his wand/pen as he sketches the characters.

Robinson's is an engaging performance, sharing the dream with his young audience; the final envoi is particularly moving.

All the other characters make their mark – Will Kemp is still Ratty, the boat-man, Cris Penfold's Toad is green with envy when he sees his first motor car, and there's a lovely Jailor's Daughter from Ewan Wardrop, hoofing it to folk tunes from A Shropshire Lad.

Like all of Martin Ward's evocative music, this is skilfully adapted from the oeuvre of George Butterworth, whose work is so redolent of the Edwardian world Grahame conjures up.

The poetical narration, by former Laureate Andrew Motion, is sometimes wordy, occasional clunky, but at its best – aping Auden for the train, say, or reaching out to the child in us all at the end – it is a superb gloss on a familiar much-loved story.

So let them rise again! Let time roll back 
And sunlight, not this graveyard-attic-light, 
But silken early sunlight ripple down! 
Let Mole peep from his burrow 
At the sudden brazenness, and Otter 
And the whole quick rabbit-clan! 
Let Ratty paddle into view, and let 
His river-currents play at fast and loose! 
Let Toad Hall stand there on its eminence! 
Yes let all this return! Return, and live 
As new and easy as the warming wind 
Which - listen! - strikes the willow-wands and draws 
A shower of music from their silver strings. 

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