First published in The Times, Thursday July 15 2021
Could there be a more superlative setting for a production of The Wind in the Willows than the banks of the Tummel? There have of course been numerous stage adaptations of Kenneth Grahame’s classic, but few can boast an actual riverbank as the backdrop to the adventures of Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad.
Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti’s production, from a new script by Mark Powell, stays faithful to the spirit if not the letter of the original, sustaining a good balance between action and hi-jinks with some quieter, more reflective scenes. Powell makes a few tweaks to the story, adding extra dimensions to the conflict between the four chums and the Wild-Wooders and in the process touching upon land use and ecology, creating a timely edge to the piece.
The cast features some familiar faces, including Taggart’s Colin McCredie in the role of Toad, and Jane McCarry, here alternating between the upright Badger and a forthright washerwoman. While Toad’s journey from hedonistic adventurer to redemption via a spell in chokey still drives the plot, this is very much an ensemble effort, with delightful turns from Ali Watt as Ratty, Connor Going as a wisecracking Otter and Alicia McKenzie as Mole – timorous yet determined.
The cast of seven, under the musical direction of Richard Colvin, also makes light work of an array of musical numbers, the acting and singing blending seamlessly with Occhipinti’s music and sound design. The costumes, designed by Natalie Fern, are quirky and colourful without being cumbersome.
It all adds up to a lively entertainment, with Newman and Occhipinti and the company making clever, capacious use of the riverside setting and natural environment. As such, the focus lies on the energy and generosity of the performances and storytelling rather than technological bells and whistles. That being said, the arrival of the shiny, full-sized motor that Toad commandeers, plunging through the crowd with joyful abandon, is a sight to behold. Poop! Poop!