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The Wind in the Willows at Hampton Hill Theatre – Review

The Wind in the Willows
The Wind in the Willows

Forty-one named characters are shared by fifteen actors in this production of The Wind in the Willows – or, to be more precise, the four main characters are Badger (Nigel Cole), Toad (Robin Legard), Mole (Abigail Francis) and Ratty (John Mortley), leaving thirty-seven other characters to be played by eleven people. In an introduction to Alan Bennett’s script, the playwright himself goes into some detail about the staging for the inaugural production in the Olivier Theatre at the National, where the set can revolve in either direction or otherwise rise and fall, at different speeds. (Or even rise/fall and evolve simultaneously.) Such luxuries are simply not available in most other places, and Teddington Theatre Club’s Hampton Hill Theatre is no exception.

How, then, should the scenes and features of Kenneth Grahame’s popular tale be portrayed? Toad’s motor car, for instance, or the river, or Toad Hall itself? Video technology would arguably be a viable solution. But it’s back to basics for this production, where less is more, and in simplicity lies both effectiveness and ingenuity. Granted, not every movement is entirely believable. Nonetheless, I was repeatedly humoured, in a good way, by the miscellaneous methods in which this story was brought to life. One particular highlight was Albert (Dave Dadswell), a horse whose footsteps were made evident by two halves of a coconut being struck repeatedly, as though this were Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The show is wonderful escapism. Somewhat darker in places than the original book, the most dastardly villains are given short shrift in a well-planned and well-executed strategy by the four friends. This being a Christmas production, it really is very much an alternative to pantomime, devoid of prolonged evil laughs and pies in faces. A rendering of ‘Silent Night’ closes the first half, possibly the most subtle lead into the interval I’ve ever come across in a family show.

The Wind in the Willows
The Wind in the Willows

Mind you, I could not help but notice some fidgeting from some of the youngest members of the audience, perhaps not surprising in a moderately-paced play with plenty of sophistication in the dialogue, and a running time slightly longer than The Phantom of the Opera. The Wind in the Willows is really all about Toad, and Robin Legard in the bombastic role is delightful, even when in a strop. He reminded me of Richard Wilson’s Victor Meldrew of BBC Television’s One Foot in the Grave to the point that I was almost willing him to exclaim, “I don’t believe it!”.

It ebbs and flows, and was absorbing enough to have made me feel slightly drowsy myself whenever the animals are bedding down for the night, and considerably fresh in the hubbub of breakfast being served in the morning. There’s something for everyone here: when the ‘Wild Wooders’ grab something to eat in the middle of the night, it seemed to have more of an impact on the adults in the audience than the children, perhaps because there is much sympathy for the parents of the defenceless creature.

The costumes (Mags Wrightson) make it easy to distinguish between the different characters played by the same performers. Overall, given the challenges in staging a show of this nature, this is an impressive and appealing production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

When Toad’s latest craze lands him in prison the Weasels occupy Toad Hall and plan to turn it into a Leisure Centre… Will Toad escape to reclaim the ancestral home? Will Mole, Ratty and Badger forgive him and come to his aid? Will Albert the horse EVER cheer up?!

This timeless English classic is given a festive, musical twist in Alan Bennett’s charming adaptation. A perfect Christmas treat! Poop Poop!

An amateur production by special arrangement with Samuel French Ltd

Cast:
Badger – Nigel Cole
Toad – Robin Legard
Mole – Abigail Francis
Ratty – John Mortley
Chief Weasel, Portly – Trine Taraldsvik
Magistrate, Hedgehog Herbert – Roger Smith
Albert, Parkinson, Policeman – Dave Dadswell
Gaoler’s Daughter, Wilfred, Mouse Mary – Sally Bone
Stoat Stuart, Billy Hedgehog, Mouse Martin – Cath Messum
Bargewoman, Squirrel Shirley, Mouse Margaret – Sally Cadle
Clerk, Rabbit Rose, Squirrel Samuel, Mouse Maureen – Eilish Langham
Otter, Weasel Norman, Mouse Mark, Motorist Monica – Lara Parker
Stoat Ian, Tommy Hedgehog, Policeman, Washerwoman – Alice Langrish
Train Driver, Fox, Rabbit Robert, Motorist Rupert, Stoat Gerald – Brendan Leddy
Gypsy, Sgt Fred Ferret, Ferret Gerald, Mouse Malcolm – Helen Smith

Production Team & Crew:
Director – Matt Beresford
Production Manager – Laurie Coombs
Musical Director – Carole Smith
Choreographer – Emma Hosier
Designer – Fiona Auty
Costume Designer – Mags Wrightson
Lighting Designer – Colin Swinton
Sound Designer – Nick Eliot
Stage Manager – Jack Tidball
ASM – Alice Metcalf
Props – Heather Morgan
Rehearsal Prompt and Props – Alice Fordham
Fight choreography – Dane Hardie
Photographer – Sarah J Carter
BAT Link – Dave Rumens
Artistic Link – Jenny Ford

The Wind in the Willows
By Alan Bennett
Adapted from the book by Kenneth Grahame
Join Mole, Ratty, Badger and Mr. Toad in this festive family show!
Sat 9 Dec 2017 to Sat 16 Dec 2017
Hampton Hill Theatre: Main Auditorium
http://www.teddingtontheatreclub.org.uk/

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