“Let my creatures rise again”
Adding to the diversity of festive offerings on the stage, The Wind in the Willows was the Royal Opera House’s first venture into the West End last December and now returns for a second year of adventuring through the riverbank, the Wild Wood and beyond. It might not be the instinctive choice for a Christmas show – a dance version of Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s novel – but it has a gently persuasive charm that ought to appeal to all ages.
A wonderfully charismatic performance from Cris Penfold brings Toad to manic attention-seeking life – likewise Sonya Cullingford’s meek myopic Mole, Martin Harvey’s rakish rowing Ratty and Ira Mandela Siobhan’s bonny bright Badger – and through Will Tuckett’s expressive choreography and direction, their stories come to life. Solely through the medium of dance, all four offer a wonderful sense of character and camaraderie through their series of jocular japes and journeys.
They’re aided by a really rather nifty design from The Quay Brothers that feels like it might have fallen out of a pop-up storybook as rivers tumble from wardrobe doors, giant chairs are upended into prison cells, butterflies float through the air on gloves. With imaginative puppetry from the inspired Toby Olié and an evocative score that runs through the breadth of English folk music from Martin Ward, there is much that can captivate here.
A rather prosaic narration from Alan Titchmarsh, playing the role of Kenneth Grahame as storyteller, does sap the magic at times though, he never settles into a performative role and so always give the impression of just delivering his lines. It is left to the likes of Ewan Wardrop to lift the theatrical mood as the bawdy Gaoler’s Daughter (as well as Otter and Chief Weasel) and celebrate the playful spirit of this sometimes delightful production.