IT’S hard to imagine a nicer piece of outdoor summer theatre for children than Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s new production of Kenneth Grahame’s much-loved tale The Wind In The Willows.

Performed on and around PFT’s new, wooden bandstand, the show, which is co-directed by Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti, has the inestimably wonderful advantage of being presented on the south bank of the River Tummel.

Boasting a fresh, witty and lively new adaptation by writer Mark Powell, the show is blessed with a superb cast that includes Jane McCarry (of Still Game fame) and Colin McCredie (who is best known for his roles in Taggart and River City). With the audience physically distanced across the PFT lawn, the wise, if somewhat irascible, Badger (McCarry), the energetically narcissistic Toad Of Toad Hall (McCredie) and their friends embark on a fast-paced and (thanks to Powell and Occhipinti’s lively songs) tremendously musical adventure.

What looks like a wooden climbing frame for children stands in neatly for the beloved boat of Ali Watt’s delightfully pompous Rat. When Mole (played by the abundantly talented Alicia McKenzie) emerges on the riverbank, blinking in the sunlight, Rat agrees (in a smart Covid reference) that it has been a very long winter.

Mole is quickly accepted as one of the “River Bankers”, as Rat and chums call themselves (as opposed to the bleak, angry and, almost inevitably, Cockney “Wild Wooders”; ie the weasels and stoats that live in the forest). This means that she will soon make the acquaintance of Toad (one of whose many middle names is, deliciously, “de Pfeffel”; in common, of course, with the tousle-haired comedian and politician Boris Johnson).

Not for Toad the joys of quietly sailing down the river. After spotting a couple of frightfully posh day trippers from Morningside, who are touring Highland Perthshire in their “motycar”, McCredie’s fabulously irritating toad is set upon a future in motoring.

However, he is not a safe driver. Poor old Toad gets chucked in the slammer on account of his palpable lack of remorse.

Whilst in prison (in an example of the production’s regular doubling, and even tripling, up of characters) he meets McCarry’s Glaswegian washerwoman, who winds up the children in the audience by casting aspersions on the cleanliness of their underpants.

McCarry’s interactions with the audience are exemplary of a boldness in the show that saves it from being too saccharine.

The scene in which Mole gets herself lost in the Dark Wild Wood, for instance, is a tad scary. Indeed, the Wild Wooders’ song, which is accompanied by dark rock music, carries a threat of real violence (even if, in a twist so “woke” that it would set Andrew Neil’s remaining hair on end, the weasels and stoats turn out to have a justified grievance).

Costume designer Natalie Fern has done a great job of alluding to the animals the actors play, rather than masking them up as the fauna of the British countryside. For example, as McCredie’s Toad tears around, his amphibiousness and his poshness are combined in the kind of splendid, green country attire in which one might go grouse shooting.

Enthralling though all of this is, the show has a spectacular and beautiful surprise up its sleeve. It would be unfair to give too much away. Suffice to say it has four wheels and is the reason Toad exclaims “Poop! Poop!”.

The Wind In The Willows is at Pitlochry Festival Theatre until September 12: