It’s over 20 years since Alan Bennett’s adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s pastoral classic was first produced at The National. And if the setting seems ever more nostalgic, perhaps that’s its charm. There is a timeless otherworldliness at play here which borrows from the best pantomime has to offer - Mr Toad disguised in washerwoman’s clothes, musical interludes and plenty of adults dressed as animals. When the weasels abduct an unsuspecting rabbit, you almost want to scream ‘he’s behind you’.
Paul Barnhill (Toad), Christopher Wright (Rat) and Sophie Gajewicz (Mole) in The Wind in the Willows at the Lowry, Salford Quays Photo: Gerry Murray
That nobody does such a thing is telling. Perhaps a Tuesday night in early December is a little early for the kids but it’s a predominantly adult audience who chuckle approvingly at the antics of Toad (who Paul Barnhill plays like an eccentric Johnny Rotten) and his riverbank chums. It’s a good job that Christopher Wright, Sophie Gajewicz and Robert Calvert are so at ease in their roles as the debonair Ratty, friendly young Mole and the Churchillian Badger, too, because there’s barely any narrative drive until the second half jailbreak.
Still, any dead spots as we slowly immerse ourselves into Grahame’s anthropomorphised world are more than covered up by some inventive staging involving projections, the weasel chorus and some lovely wooden sets. Messing about in boats has never been so charming.