Authors: Kenneth Graham
Writer/Adaptor: Ant Stones
Director: Tom Littler
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
What a shame that in this clever adaptation of Kenneth Graham’s classic tale, delivered out doors and promenading through the grounds and woods of Watts Gallery, there is no river. No doubt Health and Safety would have something to say if there had been an actual rather than a metaphorical water course and indeed the moving of the audience from main venue into the woods proves something of a head ache for the staff, but even without the true watery element, this production is a delight including as it does a real Toad Hall backdrop, a real Wild Wood and a real ‘Poop Poop’.
It is difficult to adapt such a well-known literary favourite for the stage without losing too much of the language or incurring the wrath of devotees at the omission of their particular favourite scenes but Ant Stones adaptation makes a pretty good fist of it and by creating a sort of Weasel, Stoat and Fox alliance which runs through the show he keeps the story line moving swiftly for the most part. The addition of this sub-plot to the familiar tale of Mole and Rat’s river adventures, their trials at the irresponsible hands of Mr Toad and their struggles, aided and abetted by Badger, to save Toad from himself is largely successful, and stumbles only occasionally in indulging in too much ‘business’ which at times gives the piece an unnecessary air of pantomime.
Tom Littler’s direction is slick. There is a professionality about his production which extends from keeping the cast in character as they help us negotiate the woods through the attention to detail in Badger’s lair to the excellent choreography of the slow motion ‘fight for toad hall’ scene. There are no problems with audibility throughout the show and Matt Eaton’s sound plot is spot on and well delivered. Neil Irish has devised a simple but ingenious stage to adapt easily between the various venues and his use of the Wood is spell-binding. The only real blip is the problem for the slower movers in the audience to gain a good vantage point in the Wood.
The seven cast members are all strong. In particular Matt Pinches gives an ebullient performance as Toad and his hand movements are a joy to watch. Johanne Murdock as the Chief Weasel and Otter (both much upgraded from Graham’s original rôles) moves nicely between evil schemer and worried mother and Chris Porter gets just enough gravitas in his portrayal of Badger although perhaps there is a bit too much cricket involved.
There are some darker overtones in the book but TheWind in the Willows has an underlying theme of friendliness which is well brought out in this particular performance. The seven strong cast playing all the minor rôles and leading us round the promenade; the involvement of the stage management with the audience; the friendly friendly reception from Guildford Shakespeare Company and the Watts Gallery. It is a thoroughly sympathetic and visually enjoyable treatment of an old literary friend.
The Wind in the Willows runs at the Watts Gallery, Compton until 27th June 2015