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The Wind in the Willows (Susan Elkin reviews)

The Wind in the Willows – ★★★★
Book by Julian Fellowes. Music & lyrics by Stiles and Drewe, adapted from the novel by Kenneth Grahame
society/company: Trinity Theatre
performance date: 14 Dec 2018
venue: Trinity Theatre, Church Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN1 1JP
 

★★★★

Unlike most critics, who were lukewarm about it, I liked this Stiles and Drewe musical take on The Wind in the Willows when it opened last year at the Palladium with Rufus Hound as Toad, and I still do. The music is attractive, if sometimes predictable, and Julian Fellowes’ book brings ungimmicky freshness to Kenneth Grahame’s novel.

And it’s all in pretty good hands with Trinity Theatre Productions which has certainly upped its game now that artistic director John Martin (who also directs this energetic show) has found ways of making this delightful – but once troubled – venue operate viably. For The Wind in the Willows a small orchestra pit has been created at the front of the stage to accommodate a fine five-piece live band – the first time I’ve heard anything other than recorded music in a Trinity production. There are no fewer than thirteen professionals in the cast working with a young ensemble of five for which there are two teams. Moreover the foyer has had a facelift and now looks both welcoming and seriously professional.

Brook Adam’s Chief Weasel – in white suit with black and white spivvy shoes – is pitched somewhere the mafiosa and East End gangland and he brings lots of well observed charismatic sliminess to the role. Ian Chapman’s badger has a rich, 85% cocoa solids voice which gives him all the right gravitas for the part. Ashton Charge is an insouciant Ratty with an estuary manner, lots of charm and all the decency the character calls for. And he plays nicely off Jamie Scott-Smith’s kindly, bespectacled Mole.

As Toad, Alistair Brown, is of course a thousand miles over the top because that’s the only way you can play it. He’s fun to watch, though, with an impressive range of faces, attitudes and moods. And he looks very, very green. Where can I buy a green bob wig like his?

Also noteworthy are Alexandra Burns as Mrs Hedgehog (and, it may have nothing much to do with the plot, but I enjoyed the Hedgehog song as much as I did when I first heard it) and other roles. Scarlett Leigh Fawcett, who is becoming a Trinity regular, is good value as Portia, the young otter who keeps getting lost and is then kidnapped, and Sara Louisa Parry’s singing in several roles is lovely.

Full marks too to Andy Newell’s sets which include a pretty, riverside backdrop and some simple but effective flats on castors which present, for example, Toad Hall and the underground homes of Badger and Mole.

I saw this show with a huge school party which occupied nearly the whole of the lower stalls. The level of engagement from these ten and eleven year olds suggests that they enjoyed it as much as I did.

First published by Sardines: http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-Trinity%20Theatre%20(professional)-The%20Wind%20in%20the%20Willows%20-%20%E2%98%85%E2%98%85%E2%98%85%E2%98%85&reviewsID=3428
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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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