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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Wind in the Willows

"Badger lives underground and his blunderbuss is bigger than Ratty's!" — Narrator
The Wind in the Willows
Ira Mandela Siobhan as Badger, Sonya Cullingford as Mole, Cris Penfold as Toad and Martin Harvey as Ratty (Photo: Johan Persson)
Kenneth Grahame's 1908 novel The Wind in the Willows has long been a childhood favourite with its tale of the animals that live along the riverbank. Toad of Toad Hall by AA Milne, of Winnie the Pooh fame was one of the first dramatisations of the novel often presented for children in the festive season. Former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has written the narration for Will Tuckett's choreography and direction with music by Martin Ward.

The nation's favourite television gardener, and up until now mostly an amateur actor, Alan Titchmarsh narrates as Kenneth Grahame. Motion has kept the poetry of the original in a lyrical piece of observation about the English countryside and Titchmarsh's soft regional Yorkshire accent is lovely to listen to. I can see Alan Titchmarsh getting work reading stories for children on the strength of his pleasant voice.

Kenneth Grahame sits in his attic with old furniture and bric a brac as he imagines the creatures of the riverbank. The finely drawn characters are suited for the dance interpretation of the ballet. Shy Mole (Sonya Cullingford), a "velvet fellow" rolls out from his hiding place inside a rolled up carpet rug . Martin Harvey's Ratty is rather debonair and handsome in a long coat like that worn by Douglas Fairbanks Junior. Toad (Cris Penfold) with his green wig and checked plus twos trousers develops a passion for motor cars. Cars and rowing boats are worn by the dancers on braces so they can dance and convey the mode of transport. Dancers with duck headdresses, "heads down, tails up, dabbling free" wiggle their tail feathers. As Toad discovers road power, cute rabbits are sent flying as he crashes into everything.

Stoats and weasels are terrifying, the sinister occupants of the Wild Wood. Ewan Wardrop, a veteran of Matthew Bourne's characterful productions, as the Chief Weasel looks like an edgy Elvis crossed with a Teddy Boy with a menacing high stepping dance. The weasels' exaggeratedly quiffed hair with tight jeans and leather jackets gives them interesting silhouettes. Then there are the puppet weasels, held by puppet masters, long and wriggling with big red mouths anticipating prey. There is real snow in the auditorium.

In the bar in the interval, some policeman come running through chasing the cheeky Toad who we can see close up has pink warts all over his face like the real toads! Sentenced to twenty years, Toad is sent to gaol. The giant Windsor chair is up ended to make the bars of a cell. Ewan Wardrop plays the Gaoler's daughter who amusingly falls for Toad, checking her personal hygiene with a handkerchief pre-seduction.

Returning home, the Stoats and Weasels have occupied Toad Hall and a battle royal for possession is planned by the athletic Badger (Ira Mandela Siobhan). This is really beautiful and original dance show which deservedly received an Olivier award last year.

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The Wind in the Willows
Adapted from the novel by Kenneth Graham
Composer: Martin Ward
Narration written by Andrew Motion
Directed and choreographed by Will Tuckett

Starring: Alan Titchmarsh, Cris Penfold, Ewan Wardrop, Sonya Cullingford, Ira Mandela Siobhan, Martin Harvey
With: Kayleigh Gore, Jay Webb, Jessica Ellen, Rachael Mossom, Alastair Postlewaite, Jo Meredith, Aron Wild
Set Designer: The Quay Brothers
Costume Design: Nicky Gillibrand
Puppet Designs: Toby Olie
Lighting: Warren Letton
Running time: One hours 40 minutes with an interval
Box Office 0844 482 9675
Booking to 1st February 2015
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 4th December 2014 performance at the Vaudeville, 404 The Strand, London WC2R 0NH (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)
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