The Wind in the Wilton's at Wilton's Music Hall – review
Kenneth Grahame's beloved tale gets a climate crisis twist
In Piers Torday's adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's classic The Wind in the Willows, the "action" is moved both through time and downriver, landing in contemporary London. This updated version, filled with wonderfully groan-worthy wildlife puns and catchy songs, also has a focus on the climate crisis and the need to protect the natural world in order that the starring animals can continue to survive. It's a smart move, and makes for an overall charming festive show, with something to impart to all of its audience, no matter their age.
Some of the updated characterisations are better thought-through than others, and the show's jokes definitely cater to both adults (grizzled leftie Badger, old luvvie Toad, for instance) and children (TikTok star Otter). The cast of actor-musicians are all brilliant and energetic, pulling the audience through songs of all genres and the various adventures along the river, and do particularly well with physical theatre in the most pantomime moments of good vs evil.
Tom Piper's set design is gorgeous, with woods and dried plants as well as various bits of river flotsam and jetsam (different settings are indicated with different carrier bags) appearing to almost grow out of the space at Wilton's itself. The centrepiece is a beautiful tree made up of banded-together individual branches, and in a simple but incredibly effective move, the changing of the seasons is indicated using pulleyed strings with scrap material to show leaves growing and dying away. All this is made even more impressive by the fact that the production aims to be zero waste, and so all set and costume pieces are made up of second-hand or borrowed materials.
The messages of the show can end up a little simplistic, with need for a nuanced call-to-action on climate change slightly muddied by the thrill of a battle in which Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad defeat Weasel and his predator henchmen. But there is something satisfying in the battle itself, which certainly seemed to be a favourite amongst the school groups in the audience when I saw the show, and which allows the friends to come back together.
The Wind in the Wilton's offers a simpler, and perhaps more Christmas-show-friendly solution to protecting the natural world of London, while the production makes serious and complex steps to show how the theatre industry can do the same.