Wind in the Willows, dance review: 'Cosily hand-knitted'

Duchess Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

Will Tuckett’s inventive production of The Wind in the Willows is cosily hand-knitted. A family favourite for the Royal Opera House, where it was created in 2002, it transfers to the West End with its tweedy charms intact.

The river world of Kenneth Grahame’s book is evoked in witty costumes by Nicky Gillibrand: loud checks for the brash, childish Toad, snuggly Fair Isle and whiskers for the other animals. The Quay Brothers’ attic scenery turns into riverbank and Wild Wood. Toby Olié’s puppets include brilliant stoats, all rumpled feral naughtiness.

Andrew Motion’s narration is the production’s biggest weakness. Tony Robinson negotiates the wordy, would-be poetic waffle with aplomb, but Tuckett’s danced characterisation is so much better. Tuckett also creates lovely stage pictures: snow falling on carol singers in a wood full of fairy lights, a gleeful final battle.

Will Kemp’s Ratty is hilariously dashing, with an Errol Flynn moustache and just the right blend of openness and irony. Clemmie Sveass is a touchingly innocent Mole. Cris Penfold is an exuberant Toad, with strong froggy leaps, though he can lack variety. Ewan Wardrop is terrific in a gallery of supporting roles, from smitten gaoler’s daughter to the teddy-boy Chief Weasel.

Until 1 February. Box office 020 7304 4000.