The Wind in the Willows
Review: The Wind in the Willows
The Rep. (Birmingham)
Alan Bennett's adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's classic children's story (directed by Gwenda Hughes and presented at The Crescent Theatre) is nothing but a wonderfully charming, sleek, entertaining production.
Right from the start it grips the audience transporting them to that idyllic pastoral England at the turn of the twentieth century. The quick pace and the urgency of the action capture your imagination and awaken something of the child in you. There's a brightly lit, lime-green set that changes swiftly scene after scene, making the transitional pauses barely noticeable.
And there are some lovely touches evident. The swimming in the water/river is conveyed convincingly with the use of sound and the revolving stage that is used to create the impression of a road/river, is imaginatively employed. What's more, actors are not, in a cumbersome way, dressed up as the animals. I thought playing the characters straight, with only occasional reference to the kind of animals they are, worked beautifully. Coupled with the actors' dramatic, elaborate use of language, the production avoided patronising anyone. Instead it treated the audience, adults and children, like an intelligent entity.
And actually, the production is very funny. There are a number of lines that made me laugh out loud. In particular I loved Ratty's comment accompanied with comic emphasis: 'It's ok that's a policeman,' he reassures Mole who's concerned at the heavy-handed way in which Toad is dragged off to prison. 'They don't hurt people!'
Initially, however (and I must be honest) I had quiet reservations, thinking it wouldn't appeal to me as much as the book. Some people believe that books which fuelled your imagination in your childhood are sacred, that it's almost sacrilege to tamper with them. I do too. However, there's enough added on to this particular production (music/songs) to give the story and characters a fresh veneer whilst, at the same time, remaining faithful to the original narrative. And of course, themes and motifs relating to capitalism, property, modernity and belonging/ownership are as pertinent today as they were during Grahame's time.
Matthew Douglas' bumptious Toad is hilarious and fills the stage with a unique, lively theatrical presence. He presents the larger-than-life personality with skill and accuracy. But one or two other actors also deserve a mention. Oliver Hembrough's Ratty, a character with a certain public school camp-innocence, is a treat to watch. Nicholas Prasad's Mole reminds us of Simon Bird's Will in The Inbetweeners whilst Alan McMahon's dim-but-nice magistrate was simply a delight.
In fact, this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed the evening and what's more his 10-year old nephew was utterly enthralled. So is the production good? Yes, it is. Does it entertain? It certainly does. Would the reviewer recommend it? Oh yes, indeed he would!