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Review: Have a blast with Wind in the Willows at the Cambridge Junction

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One small step for Toad, one giant leap for animalkind.

The Wind in the Willows has been blasted into the 21st century in this surreal, silly and super space-based take on Kenneth Graeme’s classic book.

Forget what you know about the adventures of Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad, forget the battle with the weasels for Toad Hall, and put aside Toad’s obsession with motor cars – that’s all so last summer.

A wonderful dance routine brings the play to an end. Picture: Claire Haigh
A wonderful dance routine brings the play to an end. Picture: Claire Haigh

The world has moved on and the Wild Wood has moved with it. Or at least Toad has moved on and her friends must now keep up as they embark on a new adventure that propels them from Earth and into the infinity of space.

The Wind in the Willows is the Cambridge Junction’s Christmas show – its festive commissions are guaranteed to be inventive, fresh and unpredictable. And all three boxes have again been ticked this year with Figs in Wigs’ reimagining of The Wind in the Willows.

Set a summer after the traumatic events of the original story, Ratty (Rachel Porter), Mole (Alice Roots) and Badger (Suzanna Hurst) are looking for some calm and the avoidance of further panic attacks, sparked by the adventures and misdeeds of their friend, Toad (Sarah Moore). The tale unwinds, slowly to start, with a riverbank scene, some delightful singing and a quirky dance routine, something which becomes a bit of theme. But the pace picks up as Toad enters the fray – followed secretly by her nemesis, Weasel (Rachel Gammon), who has revenge on her mind.

The twist comes in the form of Toad’s latest obsession – a space rocket, which she intends to use for a bit of a holiday somewhere warm. Venus.

The friends start by the riverbank before heading into space. Picture: Claire Haigh
The friends start by the riverbank before heading into space. Picture: Claire Haigh

Ratty, Mole and Badger are called upon to rescue their friend before she’s lost forever.

There’s an abundance of originality in this show, which is not delivered through the plot but through the songs, dance routines and the ad-libbing and banter between actors and audience.

Wigs in Figs have manipulated The Wind in the Willows into a semi-panto space adventure that still provides the camaraderie of the original book, and the personality of its characters.

It may not be one for the Graeme purists, but then they’re really not the target market for a play that’s laced with bad jokes, enough poo references to block a toilet and some traditional panto back-and-forths with the audience.

There’s plenty of clever touches too, which had the appreciative adults laughing and clapping.

As Ratty, Mole and Badger frantically search for someone to help them rescue Toad, they pull out an iPhone and look to call in some favours from a host of celebrity animals, animated wonderfully on the phone’s screen. Among others, they chat to Rabbit De Nero, Justin Beaver and Taylor Swift as they plot their rescue mission.

A modern take on the Wind in the Willows. Picture: Claire Haigh
A modern take on the Wind in the Willows. Picture: Claire Haigh

Aboard Toad’s rocket – which comes equipped with its own library and cinema – there’s a wonderfully choreographed montage scene of the sort you usually associate with a rom-com movie.

While Toad’s rocket may sound luxurious, the sets for The Wind in the Willows are far from lavish. With the exception of the iPhone, there’s a certain low budget charm about the props and scenery (there are a lot of things that look like they’re wrapped in tin foil). And that’s no bad thing. The five actors embrace the simplicity of their surroundings and the limitations and even talk to the audience about it, adding to the personality of the production.

That personality shines through right to the end and by the final scenes the woodland friends have the audience doing their bidding – shouting out, clapping along and blowing loud raspberries.

The watching youngsters enjoyed every second.

Strange, silly and surprising, there are plenty of laugh-out loud scenes, inventive moments, great performances and singing, and some wonderful dance routines – every step of the final rocket dance is superbly surreal and a great way for the five animals to sign off for the night.

  • The Wind in the Willows is at the Cambridge Junction until January 5. Tickets: £15.50 (£10 con). Box office: junction.co.uk.

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