January 2004

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'Wind in the Willows'

A Production of the Royal Opera House Too; Choreography by William Tuckett; Music by Martin Ward after George Butterworth

By Sylvia

December 2002 -- Linbury Studio Theatre, London

I thought “Wind in the Willows” was the most enchanting, clever and witty production. The pure quality of the dancers and singers really made this show -- the extraordinary way they all manage to contort their faces into their characters. I loved the flirting fondness between Will Kemp’s dashingly natty Ratty and Pippa Gordon’s shy Mole. I adored the singing ducks and hopping rabbits, Iohna Loots especially. She was a lovely Clara in “Nutcracker” last night but her wide-eyed rabbit terrified by Toad and his menace of a motor car was hilarious. And her letter-stuffed “hare mail” satchel got a giggle out of me.

I wanted to pet the stoat puppets (“Lion King”-style) but the weasels were as nasty as they're supposed to be. And Ratty's gun-twirling after coming to Mole's rescue was too cute. Adam Cooper was a gruff, pipe-smoking badger but most memorable was Matthew Hart’s nutty Toad, his tongue permanently flapping out of his mouth. He was completely insane!

During the interval there was a huge commotion and Toad came racing out into the crowded lobby in his stolen motor car chased by police with truncheons! The opera-sung trial and verdict by the judge was hysterical – the drop on Toad’s face as his friends Badger, Mole and Co. lined up to console him in the dock, the horror on his face as he counted on his fingers 1, 2, 5, 6 …19 ... no let’s round it up to 20 years in jail!

And the misery on his face was palpable as he crouched in his tiny cramped cell. It looks like such a tough, physical role though – as he leapt and spun from on place to another I could see huge droplets of sweat flying off! It’s so obvious how clearly the dancers and singers love their characters, how they put their all into them. Anthony Dowell had a grandfatherly air to him and his narration was warm and vivid, as well as his reaction and interaction with the characters. It’s probably true that the text is beyond the littlest children but it’s such wonderful writing I can’t imagine “Wind in the Willows” without it and it’s something for us nostalgic adults.

The carols and snow were such a magical moment I actually became a little emotional! I loved the way the bits of opera singing were integrated into the story – it’s lovely to see collaboration between dance and opera for once. The use of the sets was imaginative – a giant chair over-turned became Toad’s prison cell, a closet was used for multiple doors and a horse-driven carriage. The musical score, while no masterpiece, was an English dream.

There’s been a tiny bit of criticism at the choreography but I thought it was quite imaginative and, really, it’s the characters that make the performance. I saw the choreographer William Tuckett upstairs during the interval but I was too shy to approach him so I’ll say it here instead:

“Congratulations on a beautiful and loving production. I can’t remember being so happy and laughing so much throughout the whole two hours tonight or leaving as energised as I did.”

I loved it. I loved how stuffed it was with details -- little things that were going on around the main action so sometimes you didn’t know where to look for fear of missing something. I heartily recommend “Wind in the Willows” but the performances are completely sold out. I’m seriously thinking about queuing for returns though I think I have zero chance. I hope as well that it’s staged regularly at the Royal Opera House, and it so deserves to tour. I doubt it would be as suitable for the main stage as the Linbury -- much of the joy comes from the expressiveness of the characters. But I do think that because it is so intimate it would be perfect for filming and I would dearly love to see this huggable cast of characters and production preserved for everyone to see. The stop-motion animated film of this story is a treasured memory from my youth but I don’t know how I can ever go back to it after this! A cracking evening!

And finally, I want one of those cool knitted duck / rabbit-eared hat things!

 

Edited by Jeff.

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