The Wind in the Willows review – Grahame classic restaged as fable for our times

Pitlochry Festival theatre
Lockdown loneliness, eco-crisis and land ownership are explored with varying degrees of subtlety in an uplifting show

The National Trust should see about hiring Colin McCredie’s Mr Toad. When he gets his comeuppance in this jolly production, the owner of Toad Hall must not only renounce his love of speed and his egocentric ways, but also make amends for his family history of exploitation. Instead of pandering to the image of harmless landed gentry, this show demands he check his privilege.

It’s not the most subtle of interventions. Nor is it the only topical theme in Mark Powell’s pun-heavy script, staged on the grassy slope between the theatre and the River Tummel.

When Alicia McKenzie’s Mole says she’s been hibernating, Ali Watt’s Rat observes, “We’ve all been inside a lot.” After our own enforced hibernation, this Wind in the Willows becomes a show about rebirth and renewal. Even Toad appreciates being back in company, pledging “never to return to our solitary ways”.

In Natalie Fern’s earthy-brown hand-knitted costumes, McKenzie and Watt are our entry points into Kenneth Grahame’s world. As Mole, McKenzie sees the best in everyone and faces the riverside creatures with endless curiosity. More worldly wise, Watt’s Rat is nonetheless level-headed and welcoming.

Their sobriety offsets the exuberance of Toad, complete with fully functioning car, as well as Jane McCarry, boisterously switching roles from Horse to Badger to washerwoman. We’re on their side when the creepy line-up of wild woodland animals emerge from an actual clump of trees.

The rousing score by Ben Occhipinti, who co-directs with Elizabeth Newman, pulls the cast together, reminding us that for all their differences, they’re part of the same ecosystem – oh yes, there’s a bit of an environmental message too.


Mark Fisher

The GuardianTramp

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