TOAD To 30 July.

London.

TOAD
devised by Dan Bird.

Southwark Playhouse (The Vault) Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 30 July 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed, Thu 1.30pm & Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 July.

Enjoyable elements – but make sure you know what you’ll be getting.
OK, it’s kind of The Wind in the Willows, but forget cuddly versions by A A Milne and Alan Bennett. This is a street-kids’ edition, acted out with the audience under matted greenery but the action happening across the industrial wasteland suggested by the damp, puddled floor of the railway arches at Southwark Playhouse’s Vault.

Kenneth Grahame’s novel is an Edwardian gentleman’s nightmare, with good creatures and true banding loyally together to see-off a lower-class rabble of weasels, stoats and ferrets, natural Bolsheviks who storm Toad Hall in a Viridiana-like orgy of destruction.

The wild-wooders we first meet underneath the arches are the rowdy malcontents of an urban jungle, determined to sort out the self-important, and largely inept, Toad – Dan Starkey shows how Toad could easily become, all unawares, a natural victim of class-envy. For this is class-war, and social hatred fuels the action.

It’s not just a fight between gentlemen and roughians. On both sides the reputedly gentler sex is – well, not quite so resolutely violent in the case of Avita Jay’s Ferret, and, on the other side, smilingly unassertive in Steff White’s follow-my-leader Mole.

Johnny McPherson’s high-visibility Rat is a major organiser on the Establishment side, with Starkey’s fussily comical Toad in his shadow. Not too comically – imprisonment and chains incarcerate him, as the scene starts to resemble a dripping dungeon.

Dan Bird’s version for Bad Physics Theatre (in association with the London Academy) certainly reconfigures Grahame’s story for the age of the gritty crime story. It also grows into a depiction of bullying and peer pressure. And somewhere along the line Bird’s production remembers the extra matinees they’ve announced, as comic action steps up in the final, stylised fight, which contains some witty details.

Possibly just the thing for young people old enough to have outgrown the story straight (tellingly, there’s no age-recommendation on the publicity flyer), it will come as a shock to anyone expecting a more traditional telling. Yet, for ‘young people’ rather than ‘children’ a piece where the angry mob get to speak for themselves might be a neat revenge on nice family outings.

Stoat: Mark Conway.
Badger: James French.
Ferret: Avita Jay.
Rat: Jonny McPherson.
Weasel: Ben Neale.
Toad: Dan Starkey.
Mole: Steff White.

Director: Dan Bird.
Designer: James Cotterill.
Lighting: Alex Stone.
Sound: Tom Gibbons.
Assistant director: Sam Wood.

2011-07-21 23:43:30

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