The Wind in the Willows
1 June - 30 June
FULL PRESS REVIEWS
TIME OUT (Rating: ★★★★☆) – The Wind in the Willows
As you enter St Paul’s church gardens – magically transformed into a bucolic riverbank – you are confronted by a veritable National Trust fantasy of woodland creatures, scampering, playing badminton, pinching food from picnics. They’re all versatile examples of their species (most play three or four characters and a musical instrument), and their welcome sets the scene for a charming promenade performance of Alan Bennett’s adaptation of ‘The Wind in the Willows’.
The younger members of the audience are clearly enthralled, but the play doesn’t only appeal to children. Bennett’s acerbic wit tilts the script firmly towards adult sympathies, and there are some touching scenes between Laura Wickham’s sweetly shy Moley and Robert Lonergan’s kind-hearted, perpetually disappointed Ratty. The evilly feral Wild Wooders (in particular David Baynes and Richard Foster-King as the cackling, spivvy weasels) add a dark undercurrent. But Laurence Saywood appropriately steals the show as Toad – ludicrously self-important, yet mischievously endearing, he commands sympathy even when blaming all his friends for his predicament. This is a lovely way to spend a summer evening.
– Lucy Lord – Time Out
The Public Reviews (Rating: ★★★★☆) – Honour Bayes – The Public Reviews
Spoonfed Media – The Wind in the Willows
03 June, 2010
Weasels, otters, and field mice join Rat, Mole and Badger in this promenade adaptation of the classic children’s tale.
In the sunny gardens behind St Paul’s Church, a squirrel and a rabbit are playing badminton, cheered on and distracted by a gaggle of hedgehogs, more rabbits and more squirrels. This surreal sporting dalliance plunges the audience straight into the riverbank world of Ratty and Mr Mole who soon show up with a boat and a picnic before being rudely interrupted by an otter. General woodland antics ensue amidst this theatrical retreat in the middle of central London, cleverly created by Iris Theatre just in time for summer.
Opening up the quaint dwellings of Kenneth Grahame’s woodland creatures, director Daniel Winder has created a family friendly promenade production of Alan Bennet’s adaptation of The Wind in the Willows. You’re likely to find yourself sitting next to a hedgehog or set upon by a man-sized squirrel if your picnic looks appealing, but feed him a snack and he’ll soon scamper off towards Ratty’s immaculate house, Badger’s cosy kitchen or Moley’s hole. Such are the efforts that have gone to transforming the church gardens into a busy riverbank of mischief.
But wait till you see Toad Hall. St Paul’s Church lends itself brilliantly to Toad’s opulence as it’s reclaimed from the dastardly weasels by our well-loved, unlikely heroes. Here’s where Winder’s production really triumphs, in the acting. Wandering around among the audience, preparing for the second half, the actors remain in character during the interval and treat some curious kids to improv.
The cast have the audience falling for Mr Mole (Laura Wickham), Rat (Robert Lonergan,), Toad (Laurence Saywood) and Badger (Matthew Mellalieu). Mellalieu in particular morphs flawlessly from the horribly coarse otter to wise old Badger, and Laurence Saywood’s Toad is all that we love about the extravagant, cheeky amphibian. The team of support actors – from the mean weasels to the poor put upon horse – elevate the entire production. A great outdoor theatre experience for children and their families this summer.
The Stage – Sally Stott – The Wind in The Willows
A lot of love has gone into creating this outdoor production which sees St Paul’s Church and its grounds transformed into a world filled with picnics, punting and the ‘poop poop’ sound of a maverick toad’s motor vehicle. As people called Marjory and Charles – who may be audience members or may be characters minus their fluffy ears – take a seat on movable park benches, the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden fades away and is replaced by the serenity of Ratty’s riverside home. At the heart of Alan Bennett’s wry adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale is nostalgia for a bygone era of simple friendships and homely comforts – a highly appealing place that director Daniel Winder and the production team brilliantly evoke. The camaraderie between the reliable Rat and his young protege Mole is touchingly conveyed by Robert Lonergan and Wickham, while Matthew Mellalieu is reassuringly brusque as the authoritarian Badger. It’s difficult to avoid caricature in portraying the unstoppable Toad, but Laurence Saywood peels back our anti-hero’s bravado to reveal a softer side. The animated Weasel Norman (Richard Foster-King) is another highlight along with a never-ending sea of woodland creatures who defy the notion that talking animals are just for kids.
While this is a great show for the young, it’s the young at heart that will fully appreciate the rare loveliness of its wholesome world and, arguably, enjoy it most.
British Theatre Guide – The Wind in the Willows
This promenade performance, directed by Daniel Winder, turns the gardens of St Paul’s into the river bank and wild wood of the story with only the final scene actually in the church which, as you might expect, becomes Toad Hall. You arrive to find a game of badminton is going on. It is being played, as you soon realise, not by people but by a rabbit and a squirrel and various assorted animals taking turns to have a go.There are some little fellas who turn out to be hedgehogs who’ve even got a real rabbit with them and perhaps those pigeons settling by you are not there by chance either.
Mole, that innocent young chap, is delightfully played by Laura Wickham and with a girl playing a boy you can be pretty sure that all the kids of both sexes will soon have identified with him/her. Sex does not rear its head among these animals. Even the rabbits are free of any urge to rapid self-replication, though later a human character does seem to take a romantic shine to Mr Toad.
Everyone is cleverly costumed (by Joanna Beart-Albrecht) to suggest both animal and character, some sporting ears or tails and displaying individual creature characteristics like the deliciously twitchy nose of Scott Jones’s Ronald Rabbit.
A band of undulating blue cloth appearing above the garden’s central path turns it into a river and along it comes a boat rowed by Robert Lonergan’s Rat, ducks bobbing in the water around him. Matthew Mellalieu’s Italian-accent Otter and his boy flop out of the water to join Rat and Mole’s picnic and in the distance we can see wild wood creatures popping out of the undergrowth. Later we met Mellalieu again as kindly Badger in his house in the wildwood and, of course, at Toad Hall there is Mr Toad whom Laurence Saywood makes petulantly infantile.
Toad’s scrapes are the storyline as one wild enthusiasm replaces another after each ends in disaster: a boat, a caravan, a scooter until eventually he gets sent to jail, escapes by train and canal barge, returns to Rat’s house and joins his friends to reclaim Toad Hall which has been taken over by the wildwood weasels and stoats.
Winder has devised a very lively show, his hard-working cast are particularly good at communicating with the littlest members of the audience on a one-to-one basis and transport all of us from location to location with music and encouragement. There are always benches to sit on if you don’t want to keep on your feet as you discover the little houses of the leading characters that Sarah Booth has cleverly designed so that they open up to show you their interiors.
Diana de Cabarrus is there with her guitar for every scene and most of the animals are ready to pick up an instrument whenever needed for the many happy songs that go along with the action.
This playful production creates a real holiday atmosphere for kids and grown ups alike, the cast – and especially the hand-bandaged, soot-smirched stoats and weasels, Liv Spencer’s rebellious Black Country horse and John Harwood’s drag bargewoman – soon win them over. You might even enjoy it as much as Charles Grant does playing a properly posh magistrate.
Howard Loxton – The British Theatre Guide
Laura Wickham – Mole
Robert Lonergan – Rat
Laurence Saywood – Toad
Matthew Mellalieu – Badger, Otter
Liv Spencer – Rabbit Rose, Albert, Mouse Martin, Policewoman
Tegwen Tucker – Hedgehog Herbert, Mouse Maureen, Rabbit Ruth, Saleswoman
Scott Jones – Rabbit Ronald, Mouse Mark, Policeman
Elissavet Aravidou – Portly, Hedgehog Billy, Mouse Mary
Catriona Mackenzie – Hedgehog Tommy, Monica, Mouse Martha
Christina Gallon – Squirrel Shirley, Mouse Margaret, Gaoler’s Daughter
Simon Kent – Squirrel Samuel, Rupert, Mouse Malcolm, Policeman
David Baynes – Chief Weasel
Richard Foster King – Weasel Norman
Guy Warren-Thomas – Stoat Stuart
Anwar Kashlan – Fox
Charles Grant -Magistrate
John Harwood – Clerk, Bargewoman, Washerwoman, Gaoler
Artistic Team & Crew
Daniel Winder – Director & Producer
Dominic Alexander Haddock – Producer
Holly Seymour – Assistant Producer
Sarah Booth – Theatre Designer
Candida Calidicot – Musical Director
Benjamin Polya – Lighting Designer
Elissavet Aravidou – Movement Director
Joanna Beart-Albrecht – Costume Designer
Amy Tapper – Costume Supervisor
Teresa Santos – Design Team- Scenic Art
Dean Gibb – Design Team – Set & Interiors
Graeme Reeves – Design Team – Props
Chris Crickmore – Design Team – Set
Fabrice Serafino – Design Team – Boat
James Ford-Bannister – Stage Manager
Jess Davis – Assistant Stage Manager
Phill Fairhurst – Production Electrician
Tim Gill – Production Electrician