West Yorkshire Playhouse
There’s a feeling of deja vu at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Back in the winter of 2003, newly installed artistic director Ian Brown was raising the curtain on The Wind in the Willows and ushering in a decade of consistently impressive festive shows.
A few months ago Brown handed over the theatre’s reins to James Brining, but he hasn’t quite left the building and returns this Christmas to stage a riverbank reunion for Ratty, Mole, Mr Badger and Mr Toad.
Using Alan Bennett’s adaptation is a smart move, the playwright instilling Kenneth Grahame’s characters with his trademark dry wit, but it’s the casting which really brings this play alive. Jack Lord as the occasionally pompous and always proper Ratty is a fully fledged 1950s spiv, while Joseph Alessi looks like he was made to play the ever trusting, desperate to be liked Mole. Together they are a perfect stage bromance. However, the success of any production of The Wind in the Willows rests on Mr Toad and Paul Kemp delivers quite possibly the campest amphibian to have ever graced the stage of the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
It’s as though he’s found a way of channelling the spirit of Christopher Biggins, Danny La Rue and every panto dame in history into his plus fours.
This is a slick production, from the magical rotating hilltop set designed by Colin Richmond to the effortless performance of the cast, who apart from bringing an army of woodland animals to life, are also required to turn a tune on a saxophone and double bass.
A nod must go to movement director Lucy Hind, who perfected the cast’s every twitch, scratch and tail swish. Brown’s return to Ratty’s riverbank is nothing short of a triumph.
To January 19.