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Isabella James

Review: IN THE WILLOWS at The New Wimbledon Theatre

In the Willows Metta Theatre has teamed up with The National Deaf Children’s Society to bring Kenneth Grahame’s classic Wind in the Willows into the modern day in the form of a brand-new musical.

It is Mole’s (Victoria Boyce) first day at her new school ‘The Willows’ and she immediately feels like an outsider. Her new teacher Badger (Clive Rowe) asks popular girl Rattie (Zara Macintosh) to keep an eye on her in return for a good reference on her university application. Mole and Rattie soon form a bond and work together to help out Toad (Harry Jardine), who is not only in trouble with the law, he’s also being targeted by a threatening gang led by Chief Weasel.

This production was pulsing with energy from start to finish. The characters burst onto to stage with their opening number and the show did not miss a beat from start to finish. The two-hour running time felt over far too quickly. In all honesty, the premise of a 2019 ‘high-school’ version of Wind in the Willows had me sceptical but straight away I knew we were in safe hands. Writer Poppy Burton-Morgan not only managed to make the story completely modern and relevant, she also packed a punch with the emotions. The elements of class which the original story hints towards were pushed to the forefront of the narrative and issues around race, class bias and the law were all touched on sensitively. That is not to say the show was heavy; it was full of colour, dancing, brilliant gags and sensational performances.

Every member of the cast excelled in their role and with the hip-hop style of dancing being so core to the production, each performer really was a triple threat. The story featured various ‘dance offs’ which Chris Fonseca’s Otter and Bradley Charles’ Chief Weasel in particular showed the audience exactly how it’s done. Another great addition to the character line-up was a non-binary student called ‘Duck’ who was played by Seann Miley Moore. Above and beyond all the music and dancing was the fact that this performance was integrated with British Sign Language. Not only with signed captions but also woven within the dance moves and the story. Otter (Fonseca) was a deaf character who communicated with Rattie (Zara Macintosh) using BSL. It was fantastic to see accessibility taken so seriously and noticing a young audience member sign in excitement to her Mum was a humbling and emotional moment in a night of riotous fun.