GUEST BLOG: Putting the wind back in the willows

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Piers Torday is the playwright of The wind in the willows Wilton’s and an acclaimed children’s author

I can’t imagine a stage adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s classic novel, The wind in the willows, without Music. He imbued his prose with lyricism, brimming with breathtaking descriptions of the changing seasons and the beauty of the riverbank that are impossible to dramatize through dialogue and action alone.

The light plot, with its mix of comedy of manners and wacky cuddling, also has strong musical comedy vibes. perhaps that’s why previous adapters, from AA Milne to Julian Fellowes, couldn’t resist mixing the songs with the action. And keeping Willows musical honors the original text, which has several built-in songs, from Rat’s ditty for the Uptails All ducks to Toad’s swaggering Hero. The 2016 release by Julian Fellowes and Stiles and Drewe is the only major full musical release. Most of the others fall into the “a game with songs” category, just like ours.

Torday Pier

Music and lyrics are therefore central to Wind in the Willows’ legacy, both on and off stage, but for our version at Wilton’s Music Hall this Christmas, director Elizabeth Freestone, composer Chris Warner and I -even wanted to try something different. We’ve updated the classic story to today, keeping all the sweetness, charm and friendliness people love, but shifting from the rural side of the Thames to the urban side of London. Our quartet of friends Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad is no longer just male, but mixed. And our story is less about cars and caravan holidays, but finds Toad embracing some very modern fashions…

But in times of climate crisis, we wanted to put nature back in place. We wanted a score and songs that celebrate the precious and unique British wildlife, landscape and seasons that we are still privileged to enjoy. So for writing the songs and the score, we turned less to previous versions of musical theatre, and more to the countryside and its traditions.

It is a production directed by actor-musicians, in a music hall of wood and stone that vibrates with tradition and history, with wonderfully warm and rich acoustics. Our inspirations were less the bright lights and tunes of Broadway, but more the folk festival in a tent in a field, or a rousing pub gig with steamed up windows and guitar sings around the campfire – not to mention our great tradition. protest songs. And, yes, our animals also live in a world of TikTok…

One of my favorite tracks is the title track, Wind in the Willows. The song is inspired not only by the eponymous phrase, but by the mystery of nature at the heart of the book, the emotional pull of the seasons on all of us, and the potential for change both within and without that nature inspires. always – and I think Chris’ music captures that so powerfully. You can hear a small excerpt below

The wind in the willows Wilton’s takes place at Wilton’s Music Hall from November 30 to December 31, 2022

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