Book: Kenneth Grahame
Adaptor: Alan Bennett
Director: Ian Brown
Designer: Colin Richmond
Reviewer: Rosie Revell
Welcome to the riverbank. A world inhabited by charming woodland creatures; Mole, Ratty, Badger and the inimitable Mr Toad. Their adventures blow through and provide yet another festive treat from the West Yorkshire Playhouse this Christmas. It is a story with great pedigree; based on the much loved classic children’s book from 1908 by Kenneth Grahame and adapted by Leeds’ born playwright Alan Bennett, this version is relevant yet maintaining all the charm of the original.
Mole (Joe Alessi) has lost all patience spring cleaning his mole home underground and decides to take in some air at the riverbank. Here he meets Ratty (Jack Lord) and they pal up, spending their days on the river. As part of their river journeying Ratty and Mole end up visiting the rich, conceited but kind-hearted Toad of Toad Hall (Paul Kemp), “Some people are modest and I am…. not”. Toad constantly obsesses over new fads, such as; caravanning, motor boats and cars. Worried about Toad, Ratty and Mole recruit the help of Mr Badger (Tony Jayawardena) to help cure Toad of his dangerous obsession with cars. They fail and Toad ends up in jail. After some skulduggery and trickery Toad ends up breaking out of jail and returns to the riverbank to discover his beloved Toad Hall is being squatted in by the Wild Wooders (stoats, weasels and ferrets). The friends mount an attack to win back Toad Hall and return order to the riverbank.
From the start the audience is left in no doubt that we are in Grahame’s world where the woodland creatures rule, however Bennett’s Yorkshire tones are clear throughout, it is a very Yorkshire view of life in the Thames valley and it really works. The world in which they are performing seems a genuine delight for all of the actors and their affection for the material is clear. The principal cast work well together and have created something truly memorable with the four friends Mole, Ratty, Toad and Badger. They breathe life into much loved, oft played characters and given us a fantastic new interpretation. Alessi and Lord’s Mole and Ratty create an easy, heartfelt camaraderie while Jayawardena oozes warmth and strength as Badger. Kemp‘s Toad is everything he should be; loud, bright and demanding our attention.
The core of swing actors/musicians playing the squirrels, mice, hedgehogs, and rabbits provide sterling support to the main cast and the children (alternating teams of child performers) are a joy to watch. Those playing the Wild Wooders inject just the right amount of menace, foreboding and humour to keep this light-hearted enough for even the youngest audience member. Even when attention should be on the main cast the eye wanders to the other inhabitants of the riverbank who never break from their characters maintaining their animal like twitches and bearing even though they are dotted around the periphery of the stage.
Designer Colin Richmond’s set, as you would expect from a Playhouse production, is multifunctional and very clever. The stage is dominated by the large circular riverbank, surrounded by a rotating river, which moves backwards and forwards to reveal different settings.
A delight from start to finish director Ian Brown’s The Wind in the Willows is top notch family entertainment that really should not be missed this festive season.