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Royal Opera House 2
'The Wind in the Willows'

Return to Riverbank has flair

by Stuart Sweeney

December 23, 2003 -- Linbury Studio Theatre, London

"The Wind in the Willows" is a fine piece of dance theatre for children which can also be enjoyed by adults without embarrassment. The multi-purpose set designed by the Quay Brothers is delightful -- a large cupboard disgorges a fabric river and is transformed into a horse-drawn caravan in one scene and a forest hiding place in another. A giant rocking chair becomes a prison cell, and Ratty first appears rowing a small boat round his waist.

Best of all is the fine ensemble playing with Matthew Hart as the hyper-kinetic Toad producing giggles whenever he appears. Will Kemp as Ratty finds a level of detail and subtlety -- an arched eyebrow here, a dramatic pose there -- that marks him out as an exceptional performer. His experience with Matthew Bourne's productions has provided him with an excellent platform for this role. Kenneth Tharp, Iohna Loots, Joh Williams, Luke Heydon, and Tom Sapsford complete the cast of some of the best character dancers in the country and director William Tuckett's choreography fits the action and the narrative without distracting from the action.

The everyday dress of the characters emphasizes their humanity, and the weasels as Teddy Boys works neatly as a device. At seventy-five minutes, the work is succinct and should keep the attention of even the youngest. The end of the interval is cleverly announced with Toad rushing through the foyer with his car round his waist and policemen at his heels.

Not all the elements hit the mark -- Andrew Motion's text is too complex for children and too dull for adults, and although Martin Ward's incidental music of folk themes is charming, his songs do not register. Nevertheless, overall "The Wind in the Willows" is a treat, and the finale of Act I -- when snow falls on-stage and then in the auditorium -- produced squeals of delight. Best of all, the work introduces a future generation of dance-goers to high quality design and story-telling through movement, with vitality and flair.


Edited by Lori Ibay

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