It is an enduring classic of English Literature, a gentle story of riverside animals getting up to all manner of exploits in a multi-faceted tale of friendship, morality and adventure.

The Wind in the Willows, penned by former St Edward’s Schoolboy Kenneth Grahame and inspired by his childhood spent on the upper Thames, has been told and re-told countless times – but rarely so dynamically as in a new production which comes to Oxford Playhouse this coming week.

The Willows is an explosive new hip-hop musical, with soaring vocals and spectacular street dance, starring Olivier Award winner Clive Rowe, deaf street dancer Chris Fonseca (The Greatest Dancer) and Seann Miley Moore (X Factor).

It sees Mole beginning her first day at new school, The Willows School alongside a cast of colourful classmates: the streetwise Rattie, badly-behaved rich kid Toad and cheeky Otter under the watchful eye of Mr Badger.

“In The Willows is a vibrant re-telling of the classic story Wind In The Willows, brought into the 21st century with fabulous vocals, beats and backflips,” says Chris Fonseca.

“I play Otter, who is a very cool and humble guy, as well as an excellent street dancer! Otter and his girlfriend Rattie – the most popular girl at school – help new-girl Mole learn the ways of the Riverbank.

“Otter is a great influence who likes to look after his friends. He’s also deaf and proud to be!”

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Metta Theatre’s punchy new musical retelling of the family tale is brought bang up to date with street dance choreography by the award-winning Rhimes Lecointe. British Sign Language is incorporated into the choreography.

“It’s been a steep learning curve for me and my debut in musical theatre,” says Chris. “Especially having to learn scripts line by line, act, sing and dance with the lovely Willows squad.”

It comes off the back of his stint on BBC One’s The Greatest Dancer. How did he find that experience?

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“I remember I was nervous when my name was first called before the start of my audition,” he says. “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me though – a moment where I could give my all, to shine my light hard and show what I can do to represent for myself, the deaf dance community and deaf community, while on a popular TV platform.

“The support I’ve received is overwhelming, and beyond amazing. Unfortunately, I’m gutted to say that I didn’t make the callback but I’ll

keep going, keep moving forward and continue dancing, because breaking barriers is part of my DNA, by doing what I love!”

And how does deafness impact his dancing?

“Every person’s deafness levels are varied, and they have a different way of accessing music,” he says. “For me, I wear a cochlear implant on my left ear and as soon the music plays, the sound and the beats spread the rhythm slowly around my body, so I can feel the beat and be part of the music.

“When I receive the rhythm, it goes to my brain which works out the structure of beats and understands how the music plays before making any movements. To get into character requires a lot of patience, reading and studying how the beats work lyrically before choreographing.”

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Clive Rowe, better known to young viewers as Norman ‘Duke’ Ellington in TV’s The Story of Tracey Beaker, plays the stern but kindly teacher Mr Badger.

What attracted him to the role? “When I got the script, it felt new,” he says. “I didn’t really know the original story – all I remembered was Toad, Rattie, something with a car and Badger – but this version is so effortlessly modern, so relatable and so brilliantly accessible to kids without talking down to them.

“Once I got into the workshop and realised there was a deaf character and integrated British Sign Language, it was beautiful. I’m a big supporter of new musicals generally but I just thought it was amazing – it is amazing – this show really is being made for everyone.”

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Was his role inspired by any of his own teachers? “My home economics teacher was one of the first people that said I should act,” he says. “She was always telling me to go to drama school. I kept in touch and even invited her to join me when I received my MBE”.

So what’s the best bit? “That’s hard, there are so many… when the Weasels sing Animal - I don’t like rap generally, but the aggression of it is completely right for the characters and I can understand every word.

And Toad’s big number Easy Life is so catchy, so fun and so funny.

"Badger’s ballad Oh Child is so beautiful – it’s a great example of how generational the show is. This soulful, almost Gospel number, is just right for Badger and it’s right for my generation, like the rap is right for the younger characters. The music always captures who it’s coming from - it’s never music for music’s sake.

"And best of all, I don’t think the music is like any other musical I’ve heard.”

And will we see him doing any break-dancing in the musical? “The only back-flipping I’ll be doing is vocal,” he laughs. “I’ll be neither hipping nor hopping in the show, but co-composer Pippa Cleary has written me some beautiful melodies so that’s where I get to show off.”

He adds: “I love the script, I’m excited by the music and I’m just really looking forward to it”.

And how does he prepare for the performance?

“I’ve been doing the same warm up for 31 years,” he smiles. “It lasts 16 minutes – that’s all you need. Well, actually, first thing in the morning I do stretching for my core and legs, whether or not I’m performing. Then a vocal warm up in the shower for 13 minutes. Then my 16 minute warm up and then I’ll join the company on stage later for the group vocal warm up.

“There is no secret. You just keep going. And it’s a lot of luck. You just have to turn up, do good work, go home”.

In The Willows comes to Oxford Playhouse on Tuesday 9 and Wednesday 10 April. Tickets from