In the Willows

Inclusive urban update of anthropomorphic riverbank fantasy

The wild wood is replaced by the wild 'hood in Metta Theatre's hip-hop recreation of Kenneth Grahame's much-loved children's book, as an urban musical.

Grahame's plot and essential character traits are very much intact. It's the story of withdrawn Mole, befriended by supercilious Rattie, overseen by an avuncular Badger and led astray by a Toad who is infatuated with the good life in general and speeding vehicles in particular.

What has changed, is the context courtesy of Poppy Burton-Morgan's clever book and lyrics. The Willows is now a failing inner-city school where Victoria Boyce's orphan Mole arrives, her seventh school in as many years. Zara Macintosh's Rattie is the girl with huge potential but ever careful of her rep, Clive Rowe demonstrates some surprising vocal abilities as perceptive teacher Badger, and Harry Jardine is a cleverly finessed, rapping Toad.

Pippa Cleary's music is bass-heavy and electronic, with Rhimes Lecointe's choreography big on the breaking and the street moves - there's even a hip-hop dance battle. But the format is pure West End musical, which gives space for Seann Miley Moore's ostentatious Duck to appear, tutu-clad, in a tap-dancing dream sequence, and a trio of rather vicious rabbits, complete with pink pom-pom tails.

Adults might find it all a little over-messaged, while much of the deeper philosophical stuff about guilt will pass the juniors by. However, a young adult audience will love its intensity, the embedded BSL is intrinsic to the plot and there are plenty of clever and humorous elements for all.

Festival Theatre, 27–30 March, 7pm (Matinee Sat: 2pm)

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