Thursday, 18 December 2014

'The Wind In The Willows' at The Vaudeville Theatre

This evening we went to see 'The Wind In The Willows' at the Vaudeville Theatre on The Strand, Kenneth Grahame's lovely book made into a stage production by the Royal Opera House. As soon as it started I became 11 years old again, rapt with wonder at seeing Mole, Ratty, Badger and Mr Toad brought to life in front of me. And it snowed!

But hold on, I'm getting ahead of myself. This production was put on a couple of years ago but I didn't get to see it so, when I saw it was opening I had to buy tickets. It's not opera in the slightest, but it tells the tale of the riverbank through dance and narration and it's so easy to follow and so delightful. It opens in Kenneth Grahame's attic with Alan Titchmarsh as Kenneth, the narrator, as he introduces us to his animal friends and the story kicks off.

We learn of the friendship of Mole and Ratty, of their friendship with the exuberant Mr Toad who decides he wants a gypsy caravan (pulled by a rocking horse) until he encounters his first motor car. Uh oh, children, that's a danger! Badger convenes a meeting to discuss what can be done to curb Toad's dangerous driving and Mole is saved from the stoats and weasels in the Wild Wood by Ratty. Mr Toad is arrested and put in prison, escapes and makes his way back to his friends only to find that Toad Hall has been taken over by the stoats and weasels. A battle ensues and Toad and his valiant friends win back Toad Hall, seeing off the nasty stoats and weasels. Phew!

Of course, there's a lot more going on than that. We see the changing of the seasons from lazy summer to bountiful autumn and chilly winter and the first half ends at Christmas with carol singers and snow descending from the ceiling onto the audience. There are lots of little messages in this production about friendship and loyalty, of 'Englishness', of life and living it to the full. In the half-time interval up in the bar the driver of the car ran in asking where his car was to be followed by police checking out leads and then, finally by Mr Toad in the stolen car. He was arrested a couple of feet from me and led away by the police. When the second half opened Mr Toad was in the dock in court being sentenced to 20 years in prison! O no!

I hope you don't mind me saying that I *loved* this production? It was fun, it was frivolous and it was magical by turns. The real surprise was seeing Alan Titchmarsh on stage for almost the whole time. I knew he was narrating but I'd assumed it would be a voice-over track, not that he'd be physically there on stage for almost the whole time. He was the only one who spoke during the whole production and even did some singing and dancing (well, sort of). Alan is a gardener who turned into a TV personality in the '90s and has been building on that since then and he was really excellent as the tweedy narrator. I hope his grandchildren (if he he has any) have seen him up there on that stage. Well done Alan!

If you're in London and have time for some magic in your lives then go along and see this lovely production. You won't be disappointed! O, and they also serve extra large glasses of Shiraz in the upstairs bar if that helps you decide...

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