Kenneth Grahame’s beloved literary classic began life as a series of bedtime stories the author told to his young son. Though the book’s episodic nature does not lend itself to easy dramatisation, The Wind in the Willows has nonetheless produced more adaptations, spin-offs, sequels and pop culture tributes than any other Edwardian book about animals.
Toby Hulse’s adaptation is a real team effort. The direction, design and music are equally inspired.
It takes the natural change of seasons as its framework, rather than any of the four heroes’ quests – resulting in a bitty, unhurried and at times meandering narrative, which is kept interesting by a vibrant cast.
Over two hours Roman Stefanski’s production proves itself quite enchanting. The opening sequence music enveloping the auditorium from behind and hand-held puppets sweeping over the audience’s heads on their way to the stage. There is an element of ritual and old-style immersive quality of Slava Polunin’s work threaded through the production which is, otherwise, quite deliberately English.
Hulse has retained much of the Edwardian vernacular for his dialogue while Julian Butler’s score is evocative of both his earlier work at the Polka and in the West End.
Aimed at children over five, the show does not shy away from the story’s more ominous moments rendering the original’s anxieties about class loyalty, telling lies and stranger danger quietly topical within the current political moment.