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Updated tale of the riverbank still great fun

Wind in the Willows, Criterion Theatre, Coventry, to Dec 9.

Kenneth Graham's classic 1908 story about Ratty, Moley, Badger and the incorrigible Toad didn't need updating, but Alan Bennett did it anyway, first in 1991 and again in 1996.

And thanks to Bennett, the story in this dramatised form can be enjoyed by children and adults, albeit on different levels.

In this production, the kids may miss some of the new subtleties - like the depressed horse (Alan Fenn) announcing all property is theft - but still scream with laughter at the antics of Nicol Cortese as Toad.

And what a brilliant, acrobatic, pistol-packing Toad she makes, with the solid support of Matt Sweatman as the reliable Badger with his stout cudgel, not to mention Summer Marsden as timid Mole and Anne-Marie Greene (Rat), who arrives on stage steering a very creditable boat made up of two office swivel chairs.

I loved the inventiveness of this production, the giant sun and the green mound that opens up into underground homes.

Among the audience was eight-year-old George Leaf who laughed heartily at the rouge weasels, led by the lavishly-furred Cathryn Bowler, while his younger sister Olivia, aged seven, adored Toad's antics in his cars and caravans...not to mention his spectacular crashes. These were all the more powerful for being heard off-stage.

Both children also loved the sneakiness of Toad, the hunt for him among the audience and, needless to say, the fight scenes.

Bennett was sneaky too, introducing his updated cracks about stately homes, the injustice of inherited wealth and even takeaway meals. Although in the wild wood, food on the move has a slightly more realistic connotation.

However, please note, no hedgehogs, otters, rabbits, squirrels, field mice, foxes, ferrets and stoats were harmed during this colourful, musical production...well hardly any.

The bad news is that the play - which is quite long and so perhaps best suited for seven-years up to grandparents - is already a sell-out.

Then again, if like Toad, money is no object and you don't mind the phone bill, it might well be worth pestering the box office for cancellations.

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