It’s hard to imagine a more genial and appropriate guide to the much-loved bucolic adventures of Ratty, Mole, Badger and of course Mr Toad than Tony Robinson.
A man who was probably born with a warm smile on his face, he plays the story’s author Kenneth Grahame in Will Tuckett’s 11-year-old production, the Royal Opera House’s first commercial transfer to the West End, which has now become something of a Christmas classic.
Reminiscing in his attic, Robinson’s Grahame conjurs his little creatures back to life in a music and dance-laden return to their story of riverbank life - from the beautiful gossamer-laden summer evenings to Toad’s adventures with the motor car, his incarceration and the friends’ final triumph over the stoats and weasels.
Andrew Motion’s text has a poetic beauty, a timelessness and poignancy that is incredibly affecting and beautifully complements Martin Ward’s gorgeous music, which is heavily influenced by the pastoral melodies of the Edwardian composer George Butterworth.
The dancing offers a simple yet nonetheless mesmeric introduction to ballet for youngsters. And even if there is probably a bit too much mime for very young audience goers, the characterisation of the animals - such as Christopher Akrill’s old-man-of-the-woods Badger or the leeringly punky stoats and weasels - are still vividly expressed in a show that will leave people of all ages with a series of lovely memories. Foremost for me is the enchanting torchlit carol and snowfall that ends the first act - with the flurries magically continuing outside the theatre during the break.