The Wind in the Willows Review

Every year the West Yorkshire Playhouse puts on a family friendly production over the Christmas season. And each year, the aim seems to be to create such a warm, sumptuous and lavish performance as to terrify the next person to take on the task! 

Credit to photographer Keith Pattison

For Ian Brown – the director of this years Wind in the Willows – this task was hopefully more of a labour of love than worry, returning to a theater that he carefully steered for over a decade and only departed earlier this year. 

Alan Bennett’s 22 year old adaptation is rightly hailed as a modern classic (The Independent). His dialogue is faithful to the original and zippy; never losing sight of its goal – to delight and enthrall whole families. This story hearkens back to idyllic glory days, with a whimsy and humour that allows it to transcend the boundaries of age and tine period with ease. 
Additionally, the play is tied together by music. From songs to haunting refrains; it is a wonderful device to have all musical pieces appear to be produced from the stage and creatures depicted, really allowing you to feel part of the process. (UPDATE Every single note was LIVE according to Movement Director Lucy Hind on twitter. I’m even more impressed!!)      

Credit to photographer Keith Pattison

Throughout the production, there is a wonderful sense of movement, from each character to the gloriously and deceptively simple set. From what appears to be a mere grassy mound emerges a vibrant landscape where caravans, motor cars and even trains are to be expected. 
Lucy Hind – the Movement Director – ensures that each character has a motion or habit that is unique to the animal that each portrays. This becomes most obvious in the scene-stealing perennially put-upon Dobbin (Tom Jude) and that model of perpetual motion and confidence Otter (Leon Scott).

For those familiar with the story, I can assure you that all the essential elements are present and correct – though I personally would have LOVED to have seen this casts take on my favourite chapter – The Piper At The Gates of Dawn. 

Credit to photographer Keith Pattison

Though this is undoubtedly Toad’s show – and he is wonderfully brought to life by veteran actor Paul Kemp – Toad would be nothing without his bosom companions. It rests upon the amiable Ratty, friendly Mole and sensible Badger to make this tale believable. Jack Lord, Joe Alessi and Tony Jayawardena are more than up to the task. Indeed, I would have happily followed each down a story of their individual lives, had it been available. 

Credit to photographer Keith Pattison

Faithful Ratty remains my favourite character. As a child, I missed the sub-text, of him being in the mould of a retired Navy officer (though my recent re-read for the Christmas Read-a-long did make that more obvious). Here, though initially thrown by his posh accent, he remains as warm, caring and trusting as I ever believed him to be. A wonderful friend for anyone, young or old. 

For that reason, among many others, I heartily recommend this play. Take your loved ones, laugh and celebrate the end of the year 2012, it’s the best way to head into 2013!

Credit to photographer Keith Pattison

A West Yorkshire Playhouse production

24 November – 19 January 2013

To book tickets call Box Office: 0113 213 7700 or visit

WIW 01 (L-R) Jack Lord (Ratty), Joe Alessi (Mole)
WIW 02 Paul Kemp (Toad)
WIW 03 Paul Kemp (Toad)

WIW 04 Joe Alessi (Mole), Paul Kemp (Toad), Jack Lord (Ratty)
WIW 05 The Wind In The Willows company


Theatre Reviews


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