The Wind in the W̶i̶l̶l̶o̶w̶s̶ Wilton’s – Wilton’s Music Hall, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Piers Torday

Director: Elizabeth Freestone

Kenneth Grahame’s beloved tale of Riverbank creatures has been re-imagined for contemporary audiences with a new version set in a combined wood/city with an evil banking district run by weasels and a version of the Thames Barrier controlled from Toad Hall. Piers Torday’s The Wind in the Willows Wilton’s tries to fit in as many environmentalism and modern living references as possible when the sustainability of the wood is threatened. But light on plot, Torday’s musical is a messy collection of unfinished ideas.

Enjoying the sanctuary of his home, Mole is disturbed by the intrusion of weasels who have a compulsory purchase order to build a road. Unsure what to do, Mole meets Rat, Otter, Badger and eventually Toad who all have their own problems to face. With the Chief Weasel destroying their habitat and making lots of money as a result, can this band of new friends pull together for the good of the wood and protect their homes?

Torday’s two-hour musical roughly follows the plot of Grahame’s original story but with a modern twist; so, Toad’s motorcar escapade becomes a bicycle and he is arrested for non-payment of energy bills, while Badger’s wisdom is transformed into a life-long activism in which the creature moves from one eco-friendly campaign to another. And it also follows the seasonal cycle of The Wind in the Willows Wilton’s, ending with a Christmassy gathering of friends to suit the time of year.

But it doesn’t all work and, while the idea of the wood and the city is an interesting one, there is some muddle about whether the city is encroaching into the wood or the wood itself is London divided up into different districts. The story too feels episodic and disconnected with much time given over in the first Act to meeting a succession of creatures who sing songs about themselves – some of which are very entertaining such as the Duckling aerobic class in rubber rings and yellow crocs – but the dramatic drive is missing. Even the Act One cliffhanger is a tangential and sudden plot development that hasn’t earned such a big moment.

There are other distracting inconsistencies here, too. Designer Tom Piper and director Elizabeth Freestone have elected not to give the actors masks or facial make-up to create their creature-characters and instead use mannerisms and some costume hints which work very effectively. Yet, Samuel Wyer has created a baby Otter puppet which is cute but doesn’t match the decision to have human-looking grown-ups.

There are some good moments in The Wind in the Willows Wilton’s and a vast collection of song styles from wistful folk music to hip hop, while an Amazon Alexa-style device designed by Toad creates some fun comedy moments. Darrell Brockis’ Toad is a riot, bringing bags of energy to the stage and a number of funny songs that steal the show. Corey Montague Sholay is very sweet as the Health and Safety conscious Mole, while Rosie Wyatt grows into the role of Rat and Melody Brown’s Badger adds some fierce political jabs.

Torday’s show has several good ideas that don’t quite pay off, even the much-vaunted Chief Weasel is disappointingly human when he eventually appears and perhaps a puppet might have had greater impact. With an age rating of 5+, there’s a lot here that will probably go over a child’s head but with several productions of Grahame’s novel around the country, The Wind in the Willows Wilton’s is a valiant attempt to try something different.

Runs until 31 December 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

A valiant attempt

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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