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The Wind in the Willows (Leeds)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows has been a family favourite for over a century now. It’s a familiar story and this production, directed by Ian Brown and adapted by Alan Bennett, faithfully and lovingly brings to life the adventures of our old friends Toad, Badger, Rat and Mole.

Bennett’s adaptation is witty and whimsical. At turns both celebrating and satirising middle-Englishness. A general sense of wistful yearning for a simpler time only occasionally punctuated by quietly unsettling moments of nocturnal child kidnapping and police brutality.

The cast are uniformly excellent, from the principals to the unbearably cute junior members of the ensemble, they work together wonderfully well to bring to life a vast array of woodland creatures; as well as Toad and the gang, there is a twitching menagerie of rabbits, weasels, hedgehogs and mice constantly scurrying around the Quarry stage, not forgetting a scene-stealing, sardonic Brummie horse (Tom Jude). The animal design is decidedly lo-fi when compared with productions such as The Lion King and War Horse but certainly no less evocative because of it.

The stage is forever awash with movement, song and dance (I’m guessing Toad’s impromptu Gangnam Style moves may not have been in Bennett’s original adaptation). The costumes are colourful and fun, and Colin Richmond’s design is beautifully fluid. All combining to make a production that is a visual delight.

The first act is a little episodic and very gentle with no great narrative thrust, although the performances and visuals largely negate that issue. The pace, and drama, picks up speed in the second act as Toad’s story takes centre stage (along with a thrilling array of vehicles and modes of transportation bound to wow the younger audience members).

The Wind in the Willows is a little disjointed in places but overall it is a highly entertaining family show with genuine warmth guaranteed to chase away the winter chills.

The Wind in the Willows runs at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 19 January 2013, for more information visit www.wyp.org.uk


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