I am back at London’s worse kept secret, the East End’s beautiful historic gem Wilton’s Music Hall. Their festive family show this Christmas season is a new take on the children literature classic The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame, first published in 1908. Having grown up with the book or any film or audio adaptations, I only vaguely know that its main characters are animals usually found around Western and Central European riversides, and that nature and seasons are protagonists as well. And The Wind In The Wiltons delivers exactly this with an urban London twist. The floating water is never named the river Thames, but its banks are called out, sung in brave harmonies, and accompanied by the clarinet, the bass, violin, ukulele and guitar. The neo-folk melodies have just the right length, regularly followed fearlessly by rave beats and tiktok sequences – just in time for the annual Spotify Wrapped.
Litter pickers and mud larks will feel celebrated without the environmental message being delivered too thickly; we enter animal dwellings defined by different shopping bags, reflecting their purchasing habits, just as you would see it in the DLR nearby: Slogan-screaming reusable totes, shiny luxury paper bags and thin plastic film pouches always needing double lining whatever they are meant to transport. In and around those housing, we meet Mole, Ratty, Frog, Badger and many more critters found in the English countryside. Their costumes are rather human nods with an odd tail than fancy dress, and that could appear lazy to some but works very well on stage here in the Tower Hamlets. After all, this is not a Disney parade.
Reflections on the nation’s and the capital’s housing crisis, and on social imbalance amuse the many adults in the audience but this new play does not preach – however, the main characters’ mistrust in Fox News, hedge bankers, drones and annoying domestic robots brings out collective chuckles from all visitors of age. And the free plantable flyer with a QR code to download the program is my stagy eco winner of the year, hopefully not received for the last time.
There are wild action scenes as well as puppetry so heart-warmingly executed that I want Santa to bring me an otter baby (did I just write that down?). The Christmassy finale is performed almost acapella and a wonderful round-up before the play’s reprise. Most importantly not a panto, this is rather the kind of play auntie S would take the kids to during the festive season, most likely with a little scavenger hunt through the historic building in the interval, upstairs and downstairs. And someone might surely get a certain 114-year-old classic novel for Christmas this year from me. No, not on an e-reader.
**** out of 5 stars
written by Piers Torday, directed by Elizabeth Fresstone
Played until December 2022, tickets from £13 (concessions are available)