Reviews CambridgeNational Published 20 December 2019

Review: The Wind in the Willows at Cambridge Junction

11 December -5 January

Mammals in space: Ben Kulvichit reviews Figs in Wigs’ irreverent take on Kenneth Grahame’s pastoral fantasia, with added space rockets and iPhones.

Ben Kulvichit
Figs in Wigs in The Wind in the Willows. Design, Tim Spooner; lighting design, Jo Palmer. Photo: Clare Haigh.

Figs in Wigs in The Wind in the Willows. Design, Tim Spooner; lighting design, Jo Palmer. Photo: Clare Haigh.

I don’t know whose idea this was – whether the programming team at Cambridge Junction took it to the Figs or vice versa – but whoever it was, give them a bloody medal. Figs in Wigs, with their offbeat brand of punning, amateur dance routine-ing, alien colour-schemed live art, adapting The Wind in the Willows, at Christmas? Stick in the oven for an hour and lather it in brandy butter, why don’t you.

This is the second adaptation Figs in Wigs have produced this year, the first being their cosmic, climate-change themed, batshit crazy version of Little Women (retitled Little Wimmin). That adaptation ate itself, spiralling outwards into action with only the most tenuous of links to Alcott’s novel – they made a giant Margherita cocktail, destroyed an ice sculpture, sang Edith Piaf on a vibrating slimming machine. Here though, tasked with making a family Christmas show, they cleave more closely to dramatic essentials. We get characters and a plot, followed through from beginning to end, even if it does involve Toad forsaking her motorcars for a space rocket and a holiday to Venus – I don’t *think* that bit was in the book. Along the way, there are plenty of absurd Fig-isms, the best of which is a series of pun-laden phone calls to celebrity animals – Justin Beaver, Vole Edmonds, Shrew Perkins, Taylor Swift (subtle, that last one), made on a 5-foot tall iPhone (‘they keep getting bigger, don’t they’?). There’s a magic sleigh too, cos y’know, Christmas.

Just as Figs in Wigs’ work has always embraced the amateur and DIY, so Tim Spooner’s design revels in its Key Stage 1 aesthetic – the Wild Wood is all green fabrics, oversized food props, painted backdrop, while the outer space segments are full of tin foil, makeshift gauges, dials and levers. Spooner has past form exploring the strangeness of animals and their relationship to humans and machinery, and the costumes he’s designed for the Riverbank-dwelling fivesome are glorious – shapeless onesies with custom furry fronts (black and white for Badger, dirty green for Toad, etc) and identical pink, puckered backs. Cute, but also tiny bit gross, much like the animals themselves.

Peppered with dance routines and springy synthesiser bops from Tom Parkinson, the show is always entertaining and shrewdly paced, and if it leans on panto tropes to a surprising degree (boos for the villain, quite a lot of ‘it’s behind you!’), that’s really only going to annoy the panto-allergic among us grown ups – it’s for the kids, after all, and they all get stuck in, delighted at a copious helping of toilet humour (I’m totally pro-poo jokes myself). In that vein, a big participatory section at the end provides a hit of puerile pleasure which neatly resolves the plot in one fell swoop – of course, of *course*, Figs in Wigs would turn the title of a beloved pastoral Edwardian novel into a gag about passing wind. For that, I think I love them.

The Wind in the Willows runs at Cambridge Junction until 5th January. More info here.


Ben Kulvichit

Ben Kulvichit is a theatre maker and critic. He also writes for The Stage and his blog, Smaller Temples, and is National Reviews Editor for Exeunt. He makes performances with his theatre company, Emergency Chorus.

Review: The Wind in the Willows at Cambridge Junction Show Info

Directed by Figs in Wigs

Cast includes Rachel Gammon, Suzanna Hurst, Sarah Moore, Rachel Porter, Alice Roots

Original Music Tom Parkinson



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