The Wind in The Willows by Kenneth Graham adapted by Mike Kenny – New Wolsey Youth Theatre – New Wolsey Studio till Tues 24th October
Kenneth Graham’s classic tale of the riverbank was one of my favourites as a child, the adventures of Ratty, Mole, Badger and the irrepressible Toad always a delight – and this production by the New Wolsey Youth Theatre captures the spirit of the book exactly as it is also an absolute delight from start to finish.
Director Rob Salmon, who always manages to get exceptional performances from his talented young cast, has sensibly kept the staging and props down to a minimum – seemingly using whatever came to hand – a table for a boat, some packing cases to represent chairs, carts etc, allowing the young actors the freedom to express themselves. The costumes and makeup on the other hand are amazingly detailed and portray the characters immediately.
Mike Kenny’s adaptation is a pared down version of the story – but looses nothing of the essence from it – and still uses the poetry of the book as Mole sets the scenes for us. Mole still meets Ratty and they become good friends – they meet Badger after a little adventure in the Wild Wood and still attempt to stop Toad on his wild escapades, first with a gypsy caravan and then with his obsession with motor cars.
Joss Oliver is wonderfully old fashioned as Mole – very clear in diction and excellent characterisation, he commands the stage when narrating yet is adept at becoming part of the ensemble when needed and never once put a foot wrong. Hector Everard plays Ratty with dignity – maybe a little too understated but nevertheless very confidently. Fred Double is just wonderful as Toad. Maybe he should have been fattened out a bit – but his characterisation, movement and facial expressions were spot on – and he lit up the stage at every entrance. Sophy Annison’s Badger was also excellent – a very studied and controlled performance.
There were some lovely scenes – the humour bubbling to the surface at every opportunity. Especially good was the gypsy caravan scene with a wonderful rendition of the back and front of The Horse by Rory Clayton and Tom Dodman.
There were also some nice musical interludes which were imaginatively staged to make the most of the nine strong supporting cast who all made the most of their additional roles.
A lovely production that leaves you with a warm glow inside, this is a high standard, well produced show that is not just for children, so get along to see it if you can. If you are older it will remind you of a well loved classic or introduce you to it afresh. And these young actors deserve your support as they are the stars of the future.