'The Wind in the Willows' – Will Tuckett
This is the fourth revival of Will Tuckett’s dance version of Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic since its debut in 2002. Thankfully a decade on it is still capable of producing delight and festive cheer in its target family audience. Tuckett blends his own choreography with music, puppetry and clever set design by the Quay Brothers to evoke the idyllic English countryside. The show’s current incarnation also features new puppets by Toby Olié.
The action takes place within the confines of an oversized attic: the characters emerging from various drawers, trunks and wardrobes. In an evocative opening Mole burrows his way out of a rolled up carpet into the open air of the riverbank. The ensuing dance is somewhat shapeless and lacks narrative clarity but the story is driven on by the tweed-clad narrator (words by ex-poet laureate Andrew Motion) who manages to communicate the gist of Grahame’s story. However, those less familiar with the original may find themselves straining to read the programme notes.
This is primarily a dance piece and there is much joy to be found in the show’s movement. Toad zips around in his little car terrorising the other creatures (and the audience during the interval) and the show’s finale features a fantastic fight scene. The accompanying music is charming and evocative but the original songs are largely forgettable.
Throughout the production, the Quay’s set cleverly morphs into different locations and structures. The canary yellow caravan grows out of a wardrobe and some old trunks, which later become the judge’s dais. The judge is a fantastic puppet from Toby Olié. It's well manipulated and voiced, and leers down over a quivering Toad, dwarfed by an oversized chair that is quickly overturned to become his prison cell.
The other puppets in the production are less successful. The three stoats that follow their punk-styled weasel masters are lithe and serpentine but unfortunately have rather distractingly dead rear legs. Other forays into object animation, such as the butterflies of the riverside, sadly place a primacy on the movement of the dancers over that of the object.
This is a delightful festive treat for a younger family audience who are already familiar with the characters and plot of Kenneth Graheme’s classic tale. For others there may be more readily accessible festive shows around. However, watching carolling woodland creatures in a fairy light lit Wild Wood, while snow falls on your head, will ignite the Christmas spirit even for those who miss some of the finer plot details.
'The Wind in the Willows'
Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House
Choreography – Will Tuckett
Music – Martin Ward
Set design – The Quay Brothers
Costume designs – Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting design – Warren Letton
Narration – Will Tuckett