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In The Willows at New Wimbledon Theatre | Review

Clive Rowe as Badger

The British Sign Language signed version of the stage musical In The Willows is running in support of national Deaf Awareness Week. Based on the original book by Kenneth Graham (The Wind in the Willows), the In The Willows characters remain true to the original story with the lovable rogue Toad’s son and his other riverbank friends Rattie, Badger, Mole and Otter. Not forgetting the troublesome Weasels gang too.

The incredibly talented Laura Golden signs throughout the entire performance on her own and completely captures your attention. She keeps up with each performer with what appears to be ease. Each time the character changes, her mannerisms and body language adapt to dictate the change in the play for her visual audience. The part where she works hardest is a rap between Rattie and Mole where she is signing at an incredible speed.

The gala event was held in aid of raising money for Metta Theatre and National Deaf Children’s Society – a charity which helps raise much-needed money to help deaf children improve their quality of life – providing support officers to help with finding schools that suit the child’s needs, running events offering chances for children to meet other deaf children and opening up further opportunities for them which mainstream children access regularly.

Demographically the play has changed though in this modern version of In the Willows the nice serene countryside set story is now run down where only delinquents and those with no hope now reside. The Willows is a failing school where aspirations of learning and moving on to higher education are but a pipe dream.

The riverbank is still a place to hang out. Although take care when you do or the undesirable crowd that now use it are likely to mug you or beat you up as Mole discovers as she tries to settle into her new environment. After being moved there to an undesirable children’s home where you have to fight for survival.

Rattie played by Zara MacIntosh is growing up on an undesirable estate that she realises that excelling in her work and being offered a University place is her ticket to a better quality of life. Although she struggles to believe that she can be anything more than the tough abandoned youngster fighting for her place in an ever-worsening area.

The choreography by Rhimes Lecointe is incredible – acting, dancing and singing – with sign language fully incorporated into the entire production too, and the members of the cast signed. Such a huge achievement in their professionalism and fantastic performances.

Chris Fonseca playing Otter is a deaf actor who only communicates through sign language. What an extremely talented dancer Fonseca is!

This is matched by the lovely colourful costumes worn by many of the cast. Each suitably chosen to match the character’s personality. Especially the weasel ensemble all dressed in grey tracksuits, hoods up and a bandana covering their mouths depicting their sinister gangster look. Their leaders of the group adorned in red, alerting the audience to the trouble this gang intends to cause.

The dance-offs that take place and rapping brings this modernised version up to date. They are fun, fast and extremely entertaining. A fantastic cast of dancers who never put a foot wrong. Appealing to a younger audience in a style that they can relate to.

Toad Jr played by Harry Jardine is blinged up from head to toe in bright shades of green. He makes his entrance by hopping across the stage. He is every bit of his father from the original storyline. He lusts after the speed of bikes though rather than cars. Proudly presenting his new Moped adorned with the number plate ‘Mr Toad’. The young lad behind me remarked “he is so funny” – I cannot add to that as he summed his part up in one sentence.

The original text which this version is based upon wasn’t as complex as this newer performance starring the dysfunctional next generation of residents.

The traditional bow at the end of the show takes the form of the entire cast dancing and celebrating. The energy and enjoyment that emanates from the stage left a feel-good atmosphere behind which you pick up leaving the auditorium.

With fantastic colourful costumes, brilliantly sung numbers with superbly co-coordinated dance routines, In the Willows has something for every generation to enjoy. The inclusion of a deaf audience opens up the theatre to a section of society who is often forgotten. Absolutely incredible. Huge credit to the costume department crew of Ryan Dawson Laight and Hannah Boothman.

5 Star Rating

Review by Elaine Chapman

Mole’s first day in ‘The Willows’. Her classmates look a bit scary. Surely Mr Badger will look out for her, as
streetwise Rattie, rich kid Toad and cheeky Otter teach her the ways of The Riverbank. But when Toad gets locked
up for joyriding, the Weasel Clan break into his (lily)pad. It’s now only a matter of time before Chief Weasel reveals Mole’s dark secret…

This classic story is brought leaping into the twenty-first century. Featuring ballads, beats and backflips, this new musical will be fun for the whole family.

Badger | Clive Rowe
Mole | Victoria Boyce
Toad | Harry Jardine
Rattie | Zara MacIntosh
Otter | Chris Fonseca
Chief Weasel | Bradley Charles
Owl | Abiola Efunshile
Duck | Seann Miley Moore
Bitchy Rabbit | Katherine Picar
Twitchy Rabbit | Treasure Iyamu

Book| Poppy Burton-Morgan
Music|Pippa Cleary
Music & Lyrics| Keiran Merrick
Director | Poppy Burton-Morgan
Musical Supervisor | Mark Collins
Designer | William Reynolds
Choreographer | Rhimes Lecointe
Costume Designer | Ryan Dawson Laight
Sound Designer | Andy Graham
Associate Director | Sheila Attah
Assistant Director | Eva O’Flynn
Assistant Director | Seraphim Davey
Orchestrations | Keiran Merrick
Assistant Musical Director | Cillian Donaghy
Costume Supervisor | Hannah Boothman
General Management | Oliver Mackwood Productions
Marketing & Press | Target Live
Production Stage Manager | David Selmes
Company Stage Manager|Sophie Sierra
Assistant Stage Manager|Lizzie Laycock
Assistant Stage Manager / Wardrobe|Paige Harris

In The Willows transforms Kenneth Grahame’s well-loved tale into a thrilling new musical, written and directed by Poppy Burton-Morgan (Jungle Book, UK & International Tour), with music from award-winning composer Pippa Cleary (The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Chocolate Factory; Prodigy, St James Theatre) and groundbreaking Composer Keiran Merrick, set and lighting design by William Reynolds, costume design by Ryan Dawson Laight (Blak Whyte Gray, Barbican), and with choreography from Rhimes Lecointe.

National Deaf Children’s Sopciety


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