Titchmarsh Charms In The Wind In The Willows
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
Let's deal with Titchmarsh first. Yes. Alan Titchmarsh. The gardener, chat show host and writer of romantic novels. You can now add treading the boards to his eclectic list of talents: he's making his West End debut at the Vaudeville Theatre right now as the narrator in The Wind in the Willows. Far from the obvious choice, he's actually rather good at it. He plays an endearingly cosy storyteller, dressed in full tweed, fondly bringing the magical narration and much loved creatures to warm life. It's a genuinely nice surprise.
It's the fifth outing for this popular Royal Opera House production by Will Tuckett, a festive, family-friendly ballet that features flashes of puppetry and song. With a set designed by the Brothers Quay, the play begins in Kenneth Grahame's dusty attic office, which is simply transformed into a riverbank, a country lane, the wild wood, a court room and Toad Hall using a few props and lots of energetic imaginings. A cupboard becomes a gypsy caravan. An armchair is both dock and prison cell.
The creatures are mainly mute but expressive in their make-up and movements. Ratty is suave and swashbuckling, Mole sweet and nervous, Badger hulking and Toad completely bonkers of course. They are supported by knitted ducks, glove butterflies and rod puppet stoats, plus a lovely otter, some sleazy weasels and a giant, mumbling judge. The dancing is joyful and playful, full of dramatic flourishes and comic poses. Rather than kept on a pedestal, removed from the action, the narrator is part of the motley crew, gently interacting with his beloved creatures.
If you're trying to think of a Christmas treat for some young-ish children this could be a great choice. It's lively and well paced, with snow and carol singing before the interval. During the break, Toad tears around the bar in his new motor car pursued by the police, and the second part opens with him cowering in court. The show isn't cheesy but is solidly cheery throughout; the wild wood is decidedly un-scary. The dancing is fun to watch and, strange as it may seem, Titchmarsh proves an adept host.
The Wind in the Willows is a Royal Opera House production playing at the Vaudeville Theatre, 404 Strand, until 17 January 2015. It's suitable for children five and over and tickets range from £15-£55. Londonist saw this show with a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 05 December 2014