BBC Radio 4, 7 May 2011
A Change in the Willows takes up where The Wind in the Willows
left off. Whereas Kenneth Grahame depicted an idyllic life, on which the sun quite literally never set, Ian Buchan's
Wild Wood undergoes radical change, leaving the animals fighting to survive. Ratty (Julian Rhind-Tutt) has been flooded
out of his house by rising waters, while Mole (Stephen Mangan) has become a cultural hybrid, neither able to reunite with
his fellow-moles nor forge an alternative existence as Ratty's boon companion. Toad (Tim McInnerny) is committed to transforming
Toad Hall into a theme park complete with helter-skelter and a new bowling alley for his 'friends' - in other words, the paying
customers. Toad's character never alters; he remains blissfully unaware of the potentially destructive effect of his innovations
on the environment, as he narcissistically transforms himself into a popular entrepreneur - the animal equivalent of Richard
Once the essential theme has been established, however, Buchan does not seem to know
what to do with it. The plot meanders along in parallel strands: Badger (Andrew Sachs) tries to restrict Toad's activities
by persuading two foxes to dress up as the ghost of Toad's father and haunt him with silent moans (but not to say "Remember
me!" like the Ghost of Hamlet's father). Meanwhile Mole forages vainly for earthworms in an attempt to integrate with his
fellow-moles. The denouement provides a conclusion of sorts, as the four animals understand the importance of acknowledging
change, while simultaneusly trying to preserve the essence of their world. Toad abandons his plans, while Ratty finds a new
abode, while recognizing that it might also be washed away in the future (due to global warming, perhaps)?
Despite these shortcomings, Eoin O'Callaghan's production contained some satisfying
characterizations. McInnerny's Toad was all bluster and bravado, fond of lengthy speeches yet oblivious to the feelngs of
those closest to him. Having wrongly accused Dove (Issy van Randwyck) of plotting to recreate his father's ghost, Toad found
himself incapable of apologizing. All he could do was to retire to his bedroom and cry like a child. Sachs' Badger was tired
of looking out for his errant friends - all he really wanted to do was to snuggle down in his sett and live out the rest of
his days in peace. He had had enough of trying to set Toad on the path of virtue.
Mangan's Mole was equally world-weary as he sought out a place to put his head -
both literally and figuratively - undisturbed by those around him. Once he accepted the inevitability of a changing world,
he could work towards finding happiness.
A Change in the Willows offered sound advice to listeners about sustaining
the current eco-system in the environment to ensure the future of the world. This struck a particular chord with listeners
like myself, who lives in a city where new tower-blocks spring up almost every month, promising an idyllic existence for future
home-buyers. No attention is given to the effect of such developments on the environment, as they plough up valuable pasture
to create ersatz 'green areas', children's playgrounds and recreation facilities.