Celebrating its tenth anniversary, Will Tuckett’s dance/theatre adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s immortal book is as fresh and inventive as ever. Due to a last minute absence, it was entirely fitting that Tuckett himself took the stage to act as the narrator/author.
Clemmie Sveaas (Mole) and Will Kemp (Ratty) in Wind in the Willows at the Linbury Studios, London Photo: Johan Persson
The unique atmosphere of Grahame’s masterpiece has defeated many interpreters but Tuckett gets closer than most. Set within the author’s mind as represented by the oversized attic set designed by the Quay Brothers, the story unfolds in short bursts of ballet, song and narrative - the last written by Andrew Motion in the style of the Chorus from Henry V - plus a little touch of panto in the night. The characterisations of Ratty, Toad, Mole and Badger are lovingly textured, made more vivid by the fact that the cast are unhampered by masks or furry headpieces. This makes a huge difference in our response and distinguishes it from other anthropomorphic works like Ashton’s Tales of Beatrix Potter.
A blizzard of witty invention includes a wardrobe that becomes a gypsy caravan pulled by a rocking horse and later a judge’s bench; an enormous ladderback chair turned upside down becomes Toad’s prison cell. The performances are equally inventive. Will Kemp’s Ratty postures like Errol Flynn, Cris Penfold’s hyperactive Toad is like Dr Who with attention deficit disorder and Clemmie Sveaas captures Mole’s nervous bewilderment in a manner both touching and unselfish. The relationship between Ratty and Mole is beautifully expressed in an early duet that conveys the benign essence of this unlikely pairing without sentimentality.
The weasels are reinvented as a trio of Teddy Boys with matching Leningrad Cowboys’ quiffs while the stoats are alarmingly dishevelled puppets who wriggle and hiss to terrific effect. Best of all, the puppet judge who sentences Toad to 20 years in prison is genuinely alarming while the gaoler’s daughter sequence is pure panto farce ungarnished by stupid jokes. Out of sight, the Chroma chamber ensemble play the Martin Ward/George Butterworth score with a brio to match the antics onstage.
A little marvel.