William Tuckett: Return of the super furry animals

The Wind in the Willows is back - much to the delight of its choreographer
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The Independent Culture

Work could not be more varied at the moment for William Tuckett, the choreographer and dancer with the Royal Ballet for 17 years. He is moving between choreographing his more serious number - Proverb, a duet about a disintegrating relationship - on the main stage at the Royal Opera House (until Friday) and The Wind in the Willows, which opens next week in the Linbury Studio Theatre.

"I'm now spending all day with furry animals," says Tuckett, who asked the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, to write the script for his production of The Wind in the Willows, which returns to the Royal Opera House after its success last Christmas. Last year, Sir Anthony Dowell narrated it; this time, it is David Burke, who played Dr Watson in the television series of Sherlock Holmes.

"I've gone overnight from the music of the Minimalist American composer Steve Reich and the philosopher Wittgenstein - in my production of Proverb - to Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad," says Tuckett, who is also currently playing Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet and is shortly to play the father in a new production of Cinderella at the Royal Opera House.

The cast of The Wind in the Willows includes Matthew Hart as Toad, Will Kemp (who is starring in two big Hollywood movies next year) as Ratty, Luke Heydon as the Chief Weasel and Iohna Loots and Tom Sapsford as stoats, rabbits and butterflies. Tuckett says the dancers are not dressed to look like animals. "In the same way people end up looking like their pets, you think: 'Gosh, he looks a bit like a toad.' I get bored of sticking a mask on the cast and saying: 'He is a mole.'"

Based on Kenneth Grahame's classic children's novel, the production is full of humour: policemen chasing Toad in his motorcar - worn around his waist like a bizarre tutu - and snow falling all over the audience after Act I.

"I wanted it to have the feel of something you would not usually see at the Royal Opera House - much more intimate," Tuckett says. He also managed to persuade the ROH to price seats according to age. "It costs more, the older you get. It is amazing that the Opera House agreed. I don't think anybody had asked them before, but I wanted to do something that wouldn't cost you an arm and a leg to come and see."

Tuckett says he usually ends up watching the audience, not the show. "It is touching, especially with Martin Ward's score [inspired by George Butterworth's quintessentially English compositions], conducted by Paul Hoskins, set against the humorous performances and the peculiarities of Grahame's characters. You see old and young in the audience finding common ground - and that can't be manufactured."

Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000; www.roh.org.uk) 17 December - 3 January