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The Wind in the Willows

by on 11 December 2017

An Idyllic Slice of the Countryside

The Wind in the Willows

by Alan Bennett adapted from the book by Kenneth Grahame

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre until 16th December

Review by Melissa Syversen

It is fitting that on the day I went to see Teddington Theatre Club’s Christmas production, snow was happily dancing in the air. The less than desirable effect it had on my train notwithstanding, it created a nice ambiance for some holiday entertainment. And what better to bring that warm fuzzy feeling then Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows as adapted to the stage by Alan Bennet in 1990?

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But do you know what, instead of following the more traditional beats of a play review, I really want for once to begin by applauding the creative team of Teddington Theatre Club. Once again they have created a beautiful and in this production charmingly whimsical world on the stage of Hampton Hill Theatre. The set, designed by Fiona Auty is absolutely beautiful. And more impressively, it is also malleable and playful in all its details (suitcase beds!). There are so many lovely images from Ratty’s boat gently rowing along, to the otters’ head suddenly bobbing up from the river during a picnic to autumn leaves gently falling. The gasp of delight that rippled through the audience as Ratty’s home was revealed said it all really. Mags Wrightson has built an impressive range of costumes that are all both aesthetically pleasing but also informative of species and the different character traits amongst the play’s characters. A fox dressed in fox hunting garb was a particularly gallows-humoured choice. It is also noteworthy that the production feature four talented live musicians backstage as well on keyboards and woodwind instruments. Then, of course, it is Nick Eliot on sound, Heather Morgan on props and Colin Swinton on lighting. I really must say, to all of you and the entirety of the creative team and crew. Very well done and an excellent job to all of you!

 

It is a rather embarrassing confession but I have actually never read The Wind in the Willows nor indeed seen any other adaptation of the story. It is one of those titles I have always known, but for some reason have never actually engaged with, so I was very much going in blind for this adventure. And what a lovely adventure it was! Together we follow the well-known characters of Mole, Ratty, Badger, and Toad through a year in the English countryside as they go boating, escape prison and fight off weasels. There is really something quite special about Edwardian children’s literature, be it The Secret Garden, Peter Pan or The Wind in the Willows. They share a loving yet somewhat bittersweet and nostalgic look back an English pastoral that may or may not have existed in the first place. These worlds are all filled with wonder and magic in their own unique ways yet carry a deeper and darker undercurrent of pain, longing and social commentary. I do believe that this is part of the reason why they all continue to be so loved and cherished generation after generation. There is definite feeling of love and tenderness towards the story in this production. Some of this comes down to the strong script by Alan Bennet. But more importantly, it comes from the cast and crew. I have already expounded upon how impressed I was with the crew and creative team, but the cast is no less stellar. I really got a strong sense of camaraderie and joy from everyone on stage, which for theatre is invaluable. Director Matt Beresford has really directed his cast as a family it seems, and it shows. This show contains up to forty-six characters which here has been split over a cast of fifteen actors. The Hampton Hill Theatre is not the largest stage, but Beresford makes sure that it all flows nice and evenly and the stage rarely feels cluttered or crowded. All the inhabitants of this idyllic slice of the countryside are all nicely and clearly acted out by the ensemble.

As the main four, Nigel Cole (Badger) Robin Legard (Toad) Abigail Francis (Mole) and John Mortley (Ratty) are all uniformly excellent. Though, I do have to give an extra little nod to Abigail Francis as what is arguably the lead role. Toad might get the action scenes, but Mole is the kind and open heart in the centre of it all, and Abigail embodied that perfectly (also, she has a stunning soprano voice ..!) There was a little girl in interval who declared Mole to be her favourite character and I must say I agree.

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[My only complaint here is one that isn’t even the production’s fault. I was rather unlucky in that the evening I attended there was something that can only have been a smorgasbord of snacks being consumed happening somewhere behind me. For a Christmas family show, some noise is to be expected of course, but this was so loud that there were times I genuinely could not hear the dialogue over the noise from the wrappings. And unfortunately, during the interval, I overheard other patrons complaining about the same issue. Now normally this isn’t something I would mention in a review but I just wanted to complement the cast (and indeed the patience of the other patrons in attendance). If the cast were in any way distracted by the incessant crunching away, they did not show it even once. Tedding Theatre Club is perhaps an amateur theatre club, but to work and keep focused through such disturbance is truly the height of professionalism.]

Melissa Syversen
December 2017

Photographs by Sarah Carter

 

From → Drama, Musicals, Reviews

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