ALONG THE RIVERBANK
Royal & Derngate (Underground Studio) Guildhall Road NN1 1DP To 5 January 2014.
27-31 Dec, 2*-5 Jan 11am & 2pm.
*2 Jan performances are for young people with special needs.
Runs 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 01604 624811.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 December.
Journey from summer to winter and the warmth of friendship.
Teaming-up with Bamboozle Theatre, the Royal and Derngate has produced a version of the Royal’s Christmas production, The Wind in the Willows, for under-6s. Families or school and other children’s groups are led though the mole-hole running through Mole’s compact yet comfortable home to a reedy space where, seated on cushions or chairs, they watch – and occasionally help with – a gentle telling of the story.
From the publicity image of a wooden bridge crossing icy water in a snowbound rural landscape to the layout of the studio space with its home for each animal – Mole’s, Ratty’s comfortable alcove and Toad Hall, a distant model of a stately home – this is a visual delight.
Designer Sue Pyecroft also provides the puppet Mole (particularly affecting), Ratty and Toad, sometimes operated by their live-actor counterparts to show the animal characters leaping confidently or looking inquiringly about the scene.
Ratty’s rowing-boat and Toad’s speedboat are seen as small models before an actual rowing boat is brought on for Rat and Mole to sit with their picnic as Toad mischievously steals their crockery and cutlery, handing it to audience members to conceal.
Other such productions at the Royal, like their Tale Trail equivalents at Newcastle-under-Lyme’s New Victoria Theatre, have involved the audience physically journeying between different environments in the story being told. There’s a risk the participatory element could be lost and concentration tested by keeping things in one place.
However, it’s something that suits the story well enough, and participation is encouraged at times, from the moment children are given model butterflies to wave on wands.
There are other opportunities that might have been taken, or developed, to encourage a closer sense of young people moving the story forward. They are invited to stand in the willows and frighten the dastardly Weasels away from Toad Hall, where they’ve apparently been holding a non-stop rave. It’s a pity more isn’t made of this climax, giving a greater sense of achievement; those weasels scare too easy. But the piece overall is delightful, clear and gentle in showing the passing seasons and affirming the value of friendship.
Mole: Lori Hopkins.
Toad: Alexander Scott.
Ratty: Iwan Tudor.
Directors: Dani Parr, Christopher Davies.
Designer/Puppets: Sue Pyecroft.
Composer: Steven Vitale.
Assistant director: Hazel Barnes.