ALTHOUGH playwright Alan Bennett does not have a play opening on Broadway, he is a seasoned observer of theater. Bennett has published a memoir, ''Writing Home'' (Random House, 417 pp., $25). He is best known to American audiences for ''The Madness of King George.'' In this excerpt, Bennett talks about trying to write a stage adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's beloved book, ''The Wind in the Willows'' for the Royal National Theatre in London.
In March of 1990, at the suggestion of Nicholas Hytner, the National [Theatre] revived the idea of an adaptation of Grahame's book, only this time in the form of a Christmas show that would be virtually all sunlight and would display to advantage the technical capabilities of the Olivier stage.
My theatrical imagination is pretty limited; it is all I can do to get characters on to the stage and once they are there, I can never think of a compelling reason for them to leave - 'I think I'll go now' being the nearest I get to dramatic urgency. So I was too set in my ways to be instantly liberated by the technical challenges of the commission.
'But there's a caravan in it,' I remember complaining, 'what do we do about that?'
'I'm sure it's possible,' comforted Nicholas Hytner, who is accustomed to launching 747s from the stage. 'Just write it in.'
''But it's drawn by a horse,'' I persisted. ''We can't have a real horse and we can't have a pantomime horse or else we'll have to have a pantomime Rat and Mole and Badger.'
'Who is this idiot?' would have been a permissible response, but Nicholas Hytner patiently explained that there were several actors who looked like carthorses and who would take the part very well. It was all so simple, just as long as one used the imagination.
I set this down more or less as it happened, in case there should be any budding playwrights more tentative than I am. It's unlikely. I've been at it now for twenty-five years, and if I still can't stretch my mind to envisage a man playing a horse what have I learned?