Following is a short program note I wrote for "Wind in the Willows" at Shakespeare Santa Cruz, recently closed. I include it here for nostalgia's sake, and to shoehorn just one more Polyform entry through before yet another New Year. I do miss this show.
Kenneth Grahame began telling the story that eventually became The Wind in the Willows as a bedtime story to his son, publishing it in 1908, a time and place offering significant parallels to our own. Great Britain had just experienced the long and divisive Boer War, fought halfway across the globe at a strategic artery of her empire. The nation was confronted with the impossible task of disastrous and increasing military-imperial expenditures crippling the national economy. Figures and themes in his rambling book echo those of his day: the newly ascended King Edward VII was an indulgent, headstrong dandy famous and beloved for his whimsical devotion to fun. The elegiac English countryside had given way to industrial wastelands, abandoned mines and the desperately poor. But in many ways, the paternalist sensibilities of Badger and Ratty still prevailed, in political leaders like Lord Salisbury, thrice Prime Minister and the last to govern from the House of Lords, who was slow to rouse and decisive in action; and his brilliant nephew Arthur Balfour, who sparkled in society, drifted through life and was ever loyal to his friends (as Foreign Secretary, he crafted the Balfour Declaration, presaging the modern State of Israel). As Secretary at the Bank of England, Grahame experienced firsthand the noontime of Britain’s imperial career, and he could glimpse the fragile underpinnings soon to come catastrophically undone. Grahame’s work is an artifact from this lost but enduring world.