WIND IN THE WILLOWS: Kenneth Graham, sapped by Alan Bennett, additional lyric and music by Jeremy Sands
Birmingham Rep, at Crescent Theatre
Runs: 2h 30m, one interval, till 19 January 2013
Review: Alexander Ray, 06 12 12.
A perfectly perfect treat.
Gwenda Hughes understands children. Sit in a theatre full of 6 – 11 year olds and watch with them this production and you’ll have no doubt about this whatsoever. This is an achingly beautiful production in its whole concept, thrillingly executed with integrity throughout.
There is a fashion at this time for children’s productions to be fast, loud, and brash; a lack of confidence that children can listen. A patronising attitude to our young theatre-goers that they’re somehow too stupid to enjoy an emotional journey. Not so with Hughes; this production moves, like the river at its centre, at a leisurely pace. Early on, for instance, there is no dialogue as Ratty and Mole set out their picnic; but we sit, we watch, we are in their world and sharing with Mole the exciting sense of discovery.
Matthew Douglas never misses a beat as Toad; he encapsulates all the braggery with ease, presenting both its humorous and irritating qualities. But this story belongs to Mole and Ratty. Hughes always centres her productions around character relationships (and long may she continue to do so.) Here the friendship between these two characters completely engulfs us. Nicholas Prasad’s Mole, full of innocence, devoid of schmaltzy sentiment, a perfect bridge for the children into the world of the play. Oliver J Hembrough’s Ratty, an odd match for Mole, erect, slightly awkward (‘Ratty is prickly’ says Hedgehog), with a perfectly pitched RP accent that cleverly doesn’t set him apart but reveals character. But Ratty and Mole work it through – just like life! Chris Nayak’s Albert (the Horse) is the icing on this festive cake.
Full of delight after delight (Otters leaping from the river for instance) this story still lives, has much to teach us all, and weaves its magic. Not only a great production for children, but also a great production for us all.
Esh Alladi: Rabbit Robert, Fox, A Different Policeman
David Bowen: Ferret Fred, Weasel Wilfred, Train Driver
Matthew Douglas: Toad
Duane Hannibal: Weasel Norman
Sophia Hatfield: Rabbit Rose, Gaoler’s Daughter
Oliver J Hembrough: Ratty
Greg Herst: Stoat Cyril, Ian, Gerald, Portly Gaoler, Salesman
Michael Hugo: Chief Weasel
Alan McMahon: Magistrate
Chris Nayak: Albert, Policeman
Heather Phoenix: Clerk, Washerwoman, Rabbit Mother
Robert Pickavance: Badger
Nicholas Prasad: Mole
Live Spencer: Squirrel Shirley, Motorist Monica, Bargewoman
Andrew Whitehead: Hedgehog Herbert, Motorist Rupert, Music Captain
Director: Gwenda Hughes
Designer: Michael Holt
Musical Director and Arranger: Conrad Nelson
Lighting Designer: Paul Pyant
Sound Designer: Gregory Clarke
movement Director: Jenny Arnold
Fight Director: Terry King
Casting Director: Alison Solomon