Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Kenneth Grahame’s timeless classic brought to musical life in traditional style by a young cast brimming with energy and talent.
This is a delightful and youthful production of a classic – the tale of Mole, Ratty, Badger, Toad and their adventures – a timeless story, yet realised with much nostalgia in this production which bursts with life and channelled energy from every corner of the Pleasance Above stage.
There are too many versions of this story that are brought to Edinburgh that take liberties with the original for the wrong reasons, often pandering to the television age of the short attention span and need for garish colours. Not so here.
The acting and holding of characters are strong and rooted in Grahame’s mileu. The set is pitch perfect for this – restrained in colours and hues with a natural air, and the ensemble singing is uniformly fairly good though in need of more sharpness in places. Some of the performers need to find their vocal projection more but, as a whole, the story is carried well.
Yet what raises this high as a quality production are the acting, much of the singing, production values and the lovely, carefully considered design. What would carry it even higher would be a bit more consistent projection and clarity across the cast.
The weasels are decked out perfectly and make more than suitable villains and our four heroes carry off their parts with aplomb. Toad is wonderful – visually and pompously. All four are marked out clearly through sharply defined characterisation.
Physically we have competent, young performers working with ease through the action with a conscious theatricality from tip to toe and you can see and feel the concentration in their eyes.
There’s subtle care here in the costumes, in the creation of the Wild Wood through simple shadow and the evocation of Badger’s house is cosy and achieved through gently effective lighting. A musical score that feels Coward-esque in places, operetta-ish in others, never blocks the flow of the narrative but instead helps to carry it along the open road. Witty lyrics abound, and when Christmas came I felt as if I was back in the book. How well done is that ? Very.
Too many Fringe shows dress the characters as half human animals. Here this is left to our imaginations and this succeeded fully with the eight and nine year olds I brought along. They believed.
I think there’s scope for a little more comedy to come through and this would be achieved with a bit more physicality and tighter set piece making.
This is the best Willows I’ve seen on the Fringe for several years. The musical score is proudly traditional, as is the script, design and staging and that really matters. Toad is a top drawer toad indeed, supported by a very impressive cast. Live piano accompaniment and not a single reference to CBBC. This respects the Grahame original and the spirit of the tale fully.
It’s a strong performance from a fully committed young cast. My personal highlight: the court scene. No spoilers though – go see it.