THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
by Kenneth Grahame adapted by Patrick Sandford.
Royal & Derngate (Royal auditorium) Guildhall Street NN1 To 5 January 2014.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 01604 624811.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 December.
Elements of Christmas fun, elements of theatrical lyricism, crowned by a splendid Mole.
There are two contrasting theatrical intelligences involved in this year’s Royal Christmas show. One is adaptor Patrick Sandford. His presence is evident in the humorous moments, songs and children’s participation – features of many Christmas adaptations at Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre during his long tenure as Artistic Director.
Not that these features don’t crop-up in other adaptors’ work, but there’s nothing like being responsible for a theatre year-round to ensure a focus on what might build the seasonal audience and be friendly enough to bring some of its first-time spectators to back for more.
The other is Wind in the Willows director Gary Sefton, whose style finds expression in the haunting visual moments and elements of dramatic pungency. Gavin Spokes’ Toad may be an ancestor of that haplessly optimistic fat owl of the Remove Billy Bunter, but Siôn Lloyd’s Badger is less the expression of carpet-slippered wisdom than an irate temperament and judgmental fury. What he wouldn’t do to anyone who gets in his way! (It’s almost enough to think there’s been a badger cull going on along the riverbank circa 1908).
Sara Perks provides a typically imaginative set. High on her bank-top a cut-out circle allows poetic silhouettes of animals moving amid the trees and against a night sky, while the cliff-like riverside gives a dramatic aspect to the story, requiring some athletic leaps and landings at Ratty’s boat – from which the picnic hamper disappears overboard, sinking, amidst bubbles, into the river.
Only Toad’s vehicular transport underwhelms. There are ingenious moments as sections of a car (upgraded to a trailer-van) are assembled or turn corners, but mostly the parts don’t add up to a whole in which Toad can proudly motor.
There might be more made in the adaptation of the Wild Wood oiks wrecking Toad Hall as they squat there while Toad’s absent. But alongside its fine visual moments, this Wind in the Willows also has a quietly confident Ratty in Christopher Harper and a wonderfully sympathetic Mole, with Katie Phipps wondering benevolently behind her glasses , ever-willing to take a helpful part in the brave new world opening before her.
Chief Weasel/Albert/Policeman: Stuart Angell.
Judge/Bargee/Washerwoman: Jennie Dale.
Toad: Gavin Spokes.
Ratty: Christopher Harper.
Badger: Siôn Lloyd.
Mole: Katie Phipps.
Gaoler’s Daughter/Clerk: Cherrelle Skeete.
Children: Reece Drage, Grace Henson, Cameron Hill, Zoe Holloway, Maia Murphy, Gabriella Teriaca, Megan Timlin, Jenna-Mae White/Lulu Barber, Cameron Bassett, Sienna Chamberlain, Orla Hunt, Ben McLeish, Jasmine Preston, Crystal Reilly, Portia Willock-Bruce/Sophie Coombes, Hannah Digby, Oliver Evans, Felicity Grimes, Max John stone, Sophie Lloyd, Charlotte O’Looney, Lois Wilson.
Director: Gary Lefton.
Designer: Sara Perks.
Lighting: Matthew Haskins.
Sound: Jon Nicholls.
Original music: Neil Brand.
Additional music: Caroline Humphris.
Musical Arranger/Musical Director: Caroline Humphris.
Choreographer: Alexandra Worrall.
Additional movement: Jennie Dale.