The Wind in the Willows
Susan Elkin | 12 Feb 2022 22:41pm
This charming, witty moving show – just in time for half term – is as good a piece of non-pro family theatre as I’ve seen anywhere. There are many adaptations of Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 classic about. (I even dramatised a scene myself for a Zoom Christmas party in 2020 when we were all pretty desperate for entertainment) But Alan Bennett’s version for National Theatre in 1990 is probably the best there is and that is what Bromley Little Theatre gives us.
Aneria Knight’s bespectacled, innocent but perky Mole is a delight and there’s real theatrical chemistry between her and Jessica-Ann Jenner (who also directs) as plain-speaking, down-to-earth, grown up Rat. Jenner uses a rich Yorkshire accent (her own?) for Rat. It’s as comforting as Yorkshire pudding and reminds us of who wrote this piece.
Howie Ripley’s broad south London Badger is another joy. It’s gravitas spliced with earthiness as he takes command of the other animals representing decency, common sense and authority without cant. In this version he forges a little friendship with Mole which makes Rat a bit miffed. Ripley strides about the stage in a black sweat-shirt with a few stripes and sporting a stripy scarf. All the costumes in this show are suggestive rather than graphic – no silly tails or ears because as Jenner says in her programme note she wants to focus on the human traits of these characters.
And so to the outstandingly talented Joshua Williams-Ward as Toad. He commands and lights up the stage for every second he’s on it – reminding me of a young Alex Jennings. Williams-Ward overacts in character and gets lots of laughs, timing his click back to “normal” impeccably especially in the jail scene. It’s an astonishingly mature performance. Like several members of this cast of fourteen, he has come through Bromley Little Theatre Youth Group which Jenner co-leads.
This show is an ensemble piece with much slick multi-roling, scene changing and a handful of songs. When they morph into scenery shifters cast members simply don high viz jackets to “disguise” whatever costume they’re wearing. Amongst many excellent things I was especially struck by Chris Nelson’s body wagging, richly voiced Indian washerwoman, Hana Rae Corvin’s Sloaney Otter and Isabella Zufolo’s gentle Jailer’s daughter.
The set almost deserves a review of its own. Bromley Little Theatre is committed to green issues and works with local organisations to help tackle them. Designed by Tony and Jessica-Ann Jenner, the set for The Wind in the Willows is ingeniously built entirely from recycled materials. Thus Badger’s front door is actually part of an old fridge, a “fire” is created from an inverted supermarket basket threaded with orange paper, Rat’s boat is an old bath and so on. Cars are created from wooden cartons with ensemble members rolling wheels and the barge is built from big cardboard boxes. The effect is atmospheric and convincing. And just to remind us of the message a “human” occasionally wanders past the animal action and throws down a drink can or crisp packet.
If you can get to Bromley Little Theatre before 19 February this is a show well worth catching.
First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/the-wind-in-the-willows-7/