By Ian Spiby
In the autumn of 2019, Kate and Richard asked me if I’d like to direct touring production of Wind in the Willows. I said “yes” straightaway because it’s always been one of my favourite books. Given (not very much) encouragement I can even enact some of the scenes from memory but strangely enough I don’t often get asked to do this!!
I looked over the available versions and to be honest didn’t think any of them are suitable. AA Milne’s Toad of Toad Hall is far too old fashioned and fusty and Alan Bennet’s, while being brilliant, was written with the full resources of the Olivier Theatre in mind and I couldn’t see how it would translate to a portable, touring production. So I offered to do my own version. Kate and Richard were a bit dubious although they hid that very cleverly from me and let me set to work...
In December 2019, I went on holiday to Lanzarote (oh those far-off forgotten days when we could do such things) and I wrote it all in between dips in the pool and dozes on the sun-lounger. I had a wonderful time. Like the young vicar who said he put every idea he’d ever had into his first sermon, I put every comic line and joke I’ve ever heard into this version of Wind in the Willows.
I tried to present the story in an entirely new way while at the same time retaining ninety per cent of Kenneth Grahame’s original dialogue. I wanted to sweep away any fustiness that might have crept in over the years but keep the humour and the genuine feeling of friendship that has made it such a classic, not just for children but for adults as well.
Most of the characters will be absolutely recognisable but I’ve expanded some of the minor characters. For example, Otter becomes Mrs Otter who is not only greedy but a strong woman who stands no nonsense from anyone – as well as getting her words mixed up! And I felt that the washerwoman who swops clothes with Toad was very underrepresented, so as Mrs Pyewacket, she, like Mrs Otter is a force to be reckoned with. And she is very insistent on preserving her modesty in the exchange of clothes. And I mustn’t forget the two gossipy rabbits who, like some politicians we know, change allegiances at the drop of hat.
Of course, the 2020 tour came to nothing, but ever resourceful, Our Esteemed Producers decided to create some short films which we could use among other things as publicity for the real tour in 2021. Once again, I had a wonderful time and was even given a cough-and-spit role as Toad’s butler (I wonder if I’m a bit like Hitchcock. Mmn.)
It was all done under the expert eye of Martin Borley-Cox who produced really high quality professional results. My role as director boiled down to shouting out “Action” and “Cut” - and on one occasion I even got those mixed up, shouting “Cut” when it should have been “Action” – for which I was the butt of many a satirical jest.
But SOON, with good luck, a fair wind and the vaccine jabs behind us, we’ll start rehearsing for the real tour of Wind in the Willows. The kids will love it – and also – there are plenty of jokes for the grown-ups as well.
Hopefully, we will be touring Wind in the Willows this summer - keep an eye on our website and social media to be the first to know!