In The Willows, New Wimbledon Theatre

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Metta Theatre’s touring production transforms the classic tale of Wind in the Willows into a hip-hop musical for the 21st century. It’s Mole’s first day at The Willows, a school run by Mr Badger, where she meets pupils including rich-kid Toad, streetwise Ratty and cheeky Otter. Mixed with a hip hop/musical theatre score and hip-hop choreography that incorporates elements of British Sign Language, it’s a premise which sounds like it could be a disaster. But somehow, through clever writing, achingly good performances and ingenious choreography, In The Willows delivers on every single level.

The plot of Graeme’s original is affectionately transformed by writer and director Poppy Burton Morgan – Toad’s escape from prison (for joy riding, of course) even still involves laundry! In making the River Bank the local club and scene of many a dance-off, Burton Morgan gives choreographer Rhimes Lecointe and a cast brimming with dance talent the chance to show off their abundant skills, individually and collectively. And anyone who can follow the relentlessly catchy ‘easy life’ number in the first half with a genius ‘reprise-y life’ in the second deserves my every plaudit.

Every performance was outstanding, but there are nonetheless a few deserving of special mention. Playing the role of Rattie, Zara Macintosh’s vocals, sass and movement were simply spot on. Harry Jardine’s performance as the rapping rich kid Toad, whose vocal stylings almost received an ovation in their own right during the performance I saw, was memorable, perfectly pitched and utterly surprising (his CV is full of Shakespeare and Radio 4).

Special mention too must go to Laura Goulden, who passionately and tirelessly signed the whole of the show. BSL elements are genuinely incorporated into the whole production and used to create a visual spectacle, rather than being purely didactic or peripheral. This is a show with accessibility and representation at its core, but in the moment you won’t notice that. You’ll be too busy having a brilliant time.

The most joyful, engaging and uplifting night at the theatre I’ve had in years. It was, as my companion put it, “unfathomably good”. Do not miss it.

In The Willows tours until 8 June, with two more shows in Wimbledon (Saturday 11th May) and more dates in Hornchurch, Bristol and Guildford.

https://www.mettatheatre.co.uk/in-the-willows

 

[image: Richard Davenport]

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