Kenneth Grahame had terrifying nightmares about lying helpless while his house was ransacked. The idea of home held a deep emotional charge for the author of The Wind in the Willows (1908) and that same impulse thrums through Piers Torday’s appealing update.
As suggested by the full clunky title (The Wind in the
Willows Wilton’s), Torday tugs the story from Grahame’s idyllic Berkshire stretch of the Thames down to roister-doister contemporary London. Unscrupulous property developer weasels are snaffling the desirable riverbank, abetted by ferret lawyers. Forced above ground when his cosy burrow is threatened, Mole (an endearing Corey Montague Sholay in plush black coat and fingerless mittens) allies with Ratty, Badger and erratic Toad, defending not only his home but the entire precious riverbank.
Tom Piper’s design nestles this atmospheric venue within banks of rushes. A magnificent bare tree crowns the space: draped with spring-green bunting to begin a journey that ends with fairy lights at Christmas, steered by seven sterling actor-musicians.
The action centres less on the japes of grandiloquent, gadget-loving Toad, but on nature in peril – a lost otter pup (adorable puppet by Samuel Wyer) and the greedy weasels. Torday, known for his dystopian Last Wild trilogy, also honours the book’s genteel paganism and its vision of Pan, timeless guardian of the natural world (easily confused, one animal notes, with David Attenborough). Grahame’s nostalgic politics get new claws, especially from Melody Brown’s veteran activist Badger, her coat stippled with badges of protests past, rousingly denouncing late-stage capitalism.
Like the original, Elizabeth Freestone’s production can feel earnest, but its eco-activist heart is in the right place. It ends with seasonal wassail vibes, wide eyes shining in the winter night.
The Wind in the Wilton’s is at Wilton’s Music Hall, London, until 31 December.