It is fitting that Will Tuckett’s hit production should emerge from its subterranean home at the Linbury Studio theatre for its first ever West End adventure, given the comparable lifestyle of one its central characters.
Over the course of 11 years, Mole and his friends have burrowed into the basement at the Royal Opera House to bring Kenneth Grahame’s charming tale to life for four successful runs. But now that the Wild Wood-dwelling creatures have reached the dizzy heights of the Duchess theatre, they’re set to bring a production full of energy and feeling to a much larger family audience this Christmas.
From a dusty cluttered loft, an imaginative world emerges. A striped cloth becomes a river. An upturned chair becomes a prison. A wardrobe becomes a carriage. And a stove becomes a steam engine.
While the Quay brothers have dressed the stage with an assortment of dust-covered furniture, Nicky Gillibrand has decked out the central characters in Tweed, woolly waistcoats and an eclectic range of hats. All except for Toad, that is, whose vibrant personality is reflected in his red velvet waistcoat and garish checked trousers.
At the centre of Grahame’s pastoral tale is Toad’s run-in with the law, and this is a moment ingeniously evoked by another of Gillibrand’s costumes. His waist encased in a bright green motorcar, Cris Penfold brims with energy as the self-centred squire whose recklessness is echoed in the speed and intensity of his movements. The amphibian’s antics aren’t even limited to the stage, as he takes his havoc-wreaking to the interval, not even relenting for the curtain call.
His peace-loving friends bring a much-needed element of calm to the English countryside with their gentle personalities and lightness of movement. The show’s original Ratty, Will Kemp, is endearing as the moustachioed rodent, Christopher Akrill brings just the right amount of sombreness to the solitary pipe-smoker Badger and Clemmie Sveaas is utterly adorable as the rug-dwelling Mole.
As their creator Grahame, Tony Robinson beautifully delivers Andrew Motion’s poetic narration, interacting with the characters in his role as narrator.
While Toby Olié has worked his puppetry magic once again with his striking portrayals of mangy weasels and a towering judge, director and choreographer Tuckett has found humour in a pair of bunny ears and painted a loving relationship between Ratty and Mole, whose dance together brings the production one of its most touching moments.
A sprinkling of snow and the onstage arrival of carol singers only adds to the feel-good festive feeling, forming the icing on what is already a heart-warming and enjoyable Christmas cake.