FringeReview UK 2017
“When Mole plucks up the courage to explore the Riverbank with his friend Ratty, nothing can prepare him for the adventure that awaits. Along with Badger and the irrepressible Mr Toad, the famous foursome career from one exploit to the next culminating in a battle to save not only Mr Toads beloved Toad Hall, but their very way of life. This magical adaptation of The Wind in the Willows captures all the wit and fun of Kenneth Grahame’s novel and promises to bring the delights of this literary classic to the open air.”
The Wind in the Willows By Kenneth Grahame is directed by James Weisz, with Music and lyrics by Stephen Kingsbury.
There are usually at least a handful of Wind in the Willows in August at the Edinburgh Fringe. James Weisz’s production more than holds its own at BOAT in Brighton
The production is well paced and the narrative moves along like a fast steam train… or maybe a motor car (poop poop!), or perhaps even an aeroplane. A story that centres more on Toad than Mole, it’s heartwarming, fun and based a lot on the character acting of the able cast. The songs are traditional, musical-style with plenty of content woven into both character and story.
The outdoor venue, an open air theatre, is a perfect setting for this very English production – you can bring a picnic and enjoy a classic story from children’s literature, surrounded by trees and the setting sun. the space is well used though there’s even more scope to take the fourth wall down and use the rising amphitheatre and get into the audience (which is very occasionally done).
Here we have a story that most of us know well, delivered with freshness, occasional intensity and much humour. It works well and holds together as a well-rounded and realised production, if occasionally a little rough around the edges. There’s certainly scope to tighten up with production and further hone the acoustics. But there’s more than enough here for a golden evening of entertainment, story, humour, music and inventive theatre.
I thoroughly enjoyed this version of The Wind in the Willows – and I’ve seen a few. The cast are consistently good – in music and dialogue. The child actors fit well into the proceedings, work hard, and show they are both talented and committed. James Weisz’s production brings the best out of them, with Natalie Sexton as the children’s director focusing them on some decent ensemble work – both in movement and song.
Paul Brangan as a scouser Badger is visually and vocally strong. Natalie Sexton as an amiable and short-sighted Mole, gives us some archetypal courage and vulnerability. Thomas Hewitt as Ratty adds a bit of moustache-twirling leadership. Harry Hart fully inhabits the green skin of Toad with all the pompous naughtiness needed to be a likeable rogue. Pip Henderson as the Chief Weasel (and a few other parts) is a suitable baddy. And the characters join up well.
A rousing score does justice to the piece in a production rooted in an easy charm. The Wild Wood is invoked by music, movement and song rather than set. This is clever use of an outdoor space. Strong singing and commitment from the children carry off some complex rhythm in the songs. A favourite of mine was “Indestructible Toad”!
Acoustics are occasionally a problem in the open space, with mic’d up performers sounding a little tinny on occasion
The enduring power of nature was an under-theme present in the original book and this version reminded me of the RSC’s West End production of The Secret Garden some years ago. This is a production set by a river that is wick. With no more than minimal stagecraft the design here allows the outdoor green and wooden space to work its own magic.
The show is at its powerful and energetic best when the cast let rip vocally and less effective when the microphone-assisted dialogue feels a little muffled and muted.
The outdoor venue and the semi-round serves the production very well and the cast put an extra tank of fuel into their performances to ensure we can see, hear and savour all. Plenty of comedy moments without recourse to modern one liners and wiles, this feels like a faithful production. Songs draw upon musical and pre sixties styles, costumes are also faithful. A smiling audience having their expectations met. This is a solid and accomplished rendition of an English classic that I highly recommended. James Weisz delivers the good yet again.