It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. And there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as heading down the the North Wall this Christmas and seeing Creation's latest production of the Wind in the Willows.
I am always pleased and delighted by Creation's work, and this is no exception. Take what you expect from a Wind in the Willows performance, set it aside, and see how much of your experience and memory of the book resonates with what you see on stage. I found a lot did, and my response to the adaptation was warm and homely. It felt like I was experiencing someone else's vision of the River, the Burrows and the great Hall as they were reading it. Never have I seen an adaptation of a book so true to the feeling of the words. It is as though Creation have somehow got into the bones of the story, and persuaded it to do a marvellous turn on the stage.
The stage has rotated and is now on the right-hand-side of the auditorium. I had no idea the North Wall could do this! It's a good set-up and allows a 'thrust stage' layout with entrances through both sides of the stalls. If anything, it makes this already intimate venue feel more so, yet also more inclusive with the action taking, quite literally, centre stage.
Whenever a company takes something I love (like the book of the Wind in the Willows) I am fully prepared for something horrible, a travesty, a twisted distortion of the work I know. But that didn't happen.
I am in love with the costumes. The initial conceit of a 'play within a book within a play' works well, and the transition from 'wanderers' of the human kind to the animal characters of the book is very fluid. And I feel a more effective representation of the animal personalities was achieved by the 'hinting' within the Creation costumes than would have come from a full rat/mole/rabbit suit. It very much is not a stage of adults dressed in animal onesies. This is a Good Thing. I am in awe of Ratty and Mole's trousers - I want a pair of each!
The acting is great and the characterisations very believable. Bar the weasel-queen who I found rather annoying (perhaps that's the point), but there must be coal in every jewel-box or you don't believe the rest is real, so I can forgive that. Ratty is a delightful 1930s OCD jolly-hockysticks meets travelling artist and Mole an endearingly determined, though un-worldly, friend in all weathers. Mr Toad is eponymously marvellous, and his unexpected sidekick the Newt is great. And just when you think all genuses have been represented (brushes on the head for hedgehogs!) a pair of wrens appear! You'll know them when you see them - bone-crunchingly hillarious. Badger, ah Badger. I like how he was done, your mileage may vary.
Good choreography too, and the lighting design works with the performance all the way. Best fight scene I've seen in a long while. The Theatre is also graced this year with a warm mulled wine, mince pie and crepe-serving marquee in which is a very well-considered upgrade.
Whenever a company takes something I love (like the book of the Wind in the Willows) I am fully prepared for something horrible, a travesty, a twisted distortion of the work I know. But that didn't happen. I couldn't find a single part of the production I didn't like (apart from the 'street' Weasel - but as mentioned, I can forgive that), and went away feeling fondly reminded of the book that I love, and wanting to revisit it. That, in my book, is the true test of an adaptation.