Writer: Kenneth Grahame
Adaptor: Toby Hulse
Director: Jonathan Lloyd
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree
Anyone who makes an adaptation of a classic book, especially a children’s book, runs a tremendous risk of annoying quite a lot of people, especially those of tender years. However, Toby Hulse has risen to the challenge, making an abridged version of the whole which was, after all, originally a series of bedtime stories made into one for publication. Many such adaptations have been made, the first and perhaps best known being “Toad of Toad Hall” by AA Milne in 1929.
This version with songs accompanied by members of the cast playing softly on strings, emphasises the animal nature of the characters rather than anthropomorphising them. The six cast members play not only the main parts but are also seemingly dozens of weasels, stoats, ferrets, squirrels, rabbits, ducks, swallows, and in this story, the black seagoing rat of the original tales, who almost seduces Ratty (Phil Yarrow) away from his beloved river. Ailsa Joy is a feminine mole, timid and courageous at the same time. Nick Ash makes a grumpy yet loveable and dependable Badger, voted “favourite character” by Matthew (9) and Theo (6). Robert Saunders is a wonderfully stupid and exasperating Toad. Arran Glass and Kanga Tanike- Buah play everyone else with dizzying exits and entrances.
There are uproarious scenes, always involving Toad and his silliness, which the young audience of mainly seven to eight year olds adored. A “key stone cops” chase is achieved by clever lighting and there is much dashing about in the auditorium keeping Toad from getting hold of the key to his clockwork motor car. Toad’s imprisonment for dangerous driving is given a very clever twist.
Liz Cooke’s set is on three levels and is almost completely river. The differing heights allow characters to move between them appearing to swim. A tree at one side denotes the changing of the seasons by way of a character adding or removing leaves of differing colours.
The pace of the dialogue slackens a little in places. Small people don’t respond well to thoughtful pauses but this is a lovely play, and the friendliness and accommodation of the Polka Theatre and all its staff make for a joyful winter entertainment.