The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, adapted by Neil Brand

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Saturday Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 16 February 2013
First adapted for BBC Radio in 1944 (an extract of which was broadcast after this Saturday Play production had concluded), Kenneth Grahame's classic has proved enduringly popular from generation to generation.  Alan Bennett's adaptation has been doing tne rounds quite regularly on BBC 7 and BBC Radio 4 Extra.
David Hunter's production, with a full cast of actors and singers, plus the BBC Symphony Orchestra, rethought the book in a different way.  Through a combination of song, narration, and a florid score, the idyllic world of Edwardian England was reconceived as a environment in which the animals were perpetually at risk from the elements - fire, air and water.  Both Mole (Claire Skinner) and Toad (Stephen Mangan) experienced narrow escapes from watery graves.  The only way to contend with the elements was either to acknowledge the power of nature, or to find a way of protecting oneself against it: Badger (Philip Jackson), for instance, believed that living underground could provide one solution.
Even though the characters might have lacked the power to control the universe, they put up a spirited fight in other areas.  While Badger assumed initial responsibility for narrating the tale, his position was perpetually challenged by Mole, Ratty (Carl Prekopp) and Toad.  At one point Toad took up the narrative cudgels, asked the orchestra to stop playing for a moment and subsequently refocus the musical score, so that it conformed to his inflated sense of himself.  However this did not last long, as Badger and Mole knocked him off his narrative perch.
Despite (or, perhaps, as a consequence of) these struggles, none of the characters experienced much growth of self-awareness; they remained much the same at the end as they were at the beginning.  Toad remained a pompous ass - even though grateful to his friends for restoring Toad Hall to him; likewise Badger retained a sense of his own self-importance.  However Hunter and Brand emphasized that despite their flaws, they retained a basic concern for one another.  This was an important quality, for it was only through communal action that they could right wrongs (for example, evicting the stoats and weasels from Toad Hall), as well as protect themselves against the "fretful elements."
Brand's version of the tale was a revelation for me, bringing out elements that I never hitherto thought existed within the text.  The performances were uniformly memorable; I especially enjoyed the vocal contrast between Jackson's overbearing Badger and Mangan's puffed-up Toad.  At the end it was suggested that the production combined three things that the BBC was especially good at - radio acting, orchestral music, and singing.  I have absolutely nothing to add to that judgment.