BBC Radio 7, 2-3 August 2010
Like many classic children's books of the era, The Wind in the Willows conjures up a golden age of perpetual spring, which nonetheless has its threats - for example, the Wild Wood, which represents the darker side of human nature: no one wants to go there. The book also emphasizes the importance of home, both as a source of social stability and as a place to retire to; the animals are always looking to go there, however modest it might be.
In Alan Bennett's adaptation, first staged at the Royal National Theatre and re-directed for radio by David Blount in 1996, the edginess of the animals' relationships was clear from the outset. Rat (Richard Briers) cultivated a facade of bonhomie and good cheer, but he needed Mole';s (Adrian Scarborough's) company more than Mole needed him. Badger (Derek Waring) came across as a bit of a control freak, assuming a kind of paternal authority over the other animals; but it was also evident that he welcomed their visiting him in his sett deep in the Wild Wood. Mole was the innocent, a country bumpkin rather overwhelmed by the surface sophistication of Rat's abode; however, he possessed an instinctive cunning which stood him in good stead while visiting Toad Hall in order to scare the weasels and the stoats. Toad (Nickolas Grace) came across as a hedonist; a shining example of Edwardian capitalism who tossed aside one gadget in favour of another. However he was someone who needed friends in order to show off; when they scored him, he came across as rather pathetic. As the adaptation progressed, however, so Toad revealed that he possessed a certain integrity, an instinct for self-preservation that enabled him to survive all misfortune and return to Toad Hall in triumph.
In Blount's production Wind in the Willows came across as an analysis of power and social stability; a plea for the survival of the existing social order with everything in its 'natural' place along the river, in the Wild Wood and in Toad Hall. At the same time Blount recognized that this world was under threat from potentially subversive forces - such as the weasels. They might have been expelled from Toad Hall, but they were not destroyed. They were the representatives of socialism living to fight another day.
While the adaptation was delightfully entertaining, with occasional jaunty songs by Jeremy Sams, both Bennett and Blount did not ignore the social commentary lurking at the heart of Grahame's book.