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In the Willows review at Oxford Playhouse – ‘impressive choreography’

The cast of In the Willows at Oxford Playhouse. Photo: Richard Davenport

How ‘street’ is The Wind in the Willows? Metta Theatre’s street-dance, musical adaptation transplants the tranquil riverbank and its cast of characterful animals into an inner-city failing school. Instead of “messing around in boats”, the kids are “messing around with beats”.

Mole is the new kid on the block with a dark secret. Ratty is applying to Cambridge University to escape her difficult circumstances. Toad’s dad is in prison and he fills the void with material possessions. Badger is their inspirational teacher.

Almost every song, which each sound almost as familiar as the characters’ backstories, includes a fairly heavy-handed moral steer about being who you are and finding your voice. With its primary coloured-costumes and dance-offs, In the Willows can seem like it’s trying too hard to be down with the kids.

Poppy Burton-Morgan’s show works best as a vehicle for the considerable dance and vocal talents of its cast. Although slightly limited by his role, Clive Rowe makes a majestic Badger, utilising his rich, baritone voice. Rhimes LeCointe choreographs a number of visually impressive routines, from the weasel gang’s menacing victory dance, to a tap-dancing dream sequence.

Burton-Morgan’s production also demonstrates how integrating access enhances performances for everyone. The entire show is signed by British Sign Language interpreter Laura Goulden, whose commitment to her performance is compelling to watch. Otter, played by street dancer Chris Fonseca, who is deaf, teaches Mole how to sign. In big chorus numbers, the cast members sign the lyrics, shimmying between sign language and dance moves.

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Metta Theatre’s urban update of Wind in the Willows makes up for its lack of originality with impressive choreography