There's a tweedy charm to Will Tuckett's danced adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, first staged in 2002. Music and performances are attractive, while the production is full of lively detail. But it's let down by the precious, clunking narration.
The characters of Kenneth Grahame's book emerge from the old lumber of an attic, designed by the Quay Brothers. The Mole's burrow is a rolled-up carpet, while Mr Toad is imprisoned behind the bars of an overturned farmhouse chair.
Nicky Gillibrand's costumes evoke a furry, whiskery Edwardian world, the animals in tweed coats and woolly pullovers. The Water Rat has leggings and shorts, a hint of a bathing costume, with strongly marked eyebrows and moustache to suggest his whiskers. On the river, he wears his toy boat around his waist, like a wooden tutu. Even Gillibrand's animal features come hand-knitted, with rabbits in long-eared balaclavas.
Tuckett concentrates on the river, Mr Toad's adventures and the fight for Toad Hall, simplifying the story and cutting Grahame's strange journey to the Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The Narrator introduces each character, addressing it or us, describing offstage developments. Then the dancers take over, in a mix of mimed action and skipping steps.
Alas, Andrew Motion's script is just awful. Motion is the Poet Laureate, and seems determined to remind us of it. The narrator spends the first few sentences going on about the truth of fiction, then tries to be all Shakespearean about the changing seasons or the illusion of theatre. It's artful and effortful; weak at basic storytelling. Narrator Michele Wade has a condescending manner, with blurred diction in the faster passages.
Martin Ward's sprightly score uses themes by the Edwardian composer George Butterworth, with hints of English folksong. Ward and Tuckett weave songs into the action, with three singers appearing as ducks (with knitted birds on their woolly caps), carol singers, judge and policemen.
There are appealing scenes along the way. Butterflies and dragonflies - bright models sewn on to the dancers' gloves - hover over the river. Badger winds up a generator, lighting up strings and tangles of fairy lights outside his house. The snow scene, previously a highlight, is less well-managed at this revival - on the press night, the machines are too noisy.
The mix of speech and action can leave the dancers standing around, waiting for the narrator or hugging each other in too general joy. But Tuckett inherits Grahame's strongly drawn characters, and performances are spirited. Ewan Wardrop is an inventive Mr Toad, and Nikolas Kafetzakis' kindly Ratty is a strong foil for Charlotte Broom's sweet, timid Mole.
To 13 January (020-7304 4000); touring to The Lowry, Salford Quays (08707 875 793), 31 January to 3 February; and Coronation Hall, Ulverston (01229 587140), 8 to 10 FebruaryReuse content