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The Wind in the Willows review at the Rose Theatre, Kingston – ‘surprisingly political’

Michael Taibi in The Wind in the Willows at Rose Theatre Kingston. Photo: Mark Douet Michael Taibi in The Wind in the Willows at Rose Theatre Kingston. Photo: Mark Douet
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It may not be the biggest Wind In The Willows to open this year – that honour goes to Stiles and Drewe’s version in Plymouth – but it’s the one with the biggest heart. The Rose Theatre’s Christmas show, adapted from Kenneth Grahame’s classic by Ciaran McConville, puts members of its Youth Theatre Team alongside professionals for a slightly chaotic, very warm and surprisingly political production.

The story of Ratty, Mole and Badger trying to coax Toad away from his motor car obsession, while evil creatures from the Wild Wood take over Toad Hall, is a familiar one and it’s well enacted by the cast: Gary Mitchinson’s Mole shows a sweet progression from timidity to courage, Derek Elroy’s Badger is a friendly, avuncular old thing. Jamie Baughan is definitely the highlight as a bombastic Toad with a shock of luminous green hair.

McConville’s adaptation includes a large number of auxiliary characters, allowing for plenty of the Rose’s enthusiastic youth contingent to be on stage, and he preaches a warm message of inclusivity as Ratty extols the peace of the riverbank where creatures – with their different habits – live cheek-by-jowl in harmony.

Monumental set, projection mapped with what look like hand-drawn animations, including a bright blue river that meanders through the stage.

It’s a great big production, taking place on Timothy Bird’s monumental set with a projection-mapped stage, and although it slackens in the second half, there’s plenty of festive dazzle – confetti, plumes of haze – plus a charming take-home message: Ratty ignores the problems of the world – the stoats and weasels hiding in the Wild Wood – hoping that they will go away. The lesson, of course, is to learn to face up to troubling times.

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Verdict
A warm-hearted adaptation of the Kenneth Grahame classic
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