ratty, toad, mole

Genevieve Richards as Ratty, Holly Rice as Toad and Bethan Parri as Mole.

The Wind in the Willows

Lichfield Garrick


When you take a well known story, and a much treasured memory of many a childhood, almost like an old friend, and adapt it for the stage, then woe betide if you get it wrong.

Luckily the Garrick’s 2023 community musical managed to keep well away from trouble, unlike Toad of course, with a quite splendid evening’s entertainment, as Toad might have put it, waving his arms about to emphasise the point.

It was lively, stuck to Kenneth Grahame’s original, more or less, and most of all it was fun - good, clean, family fun.

My grandson’s, aged 12 and eight, loved it, and after all they are the next generation of theatre goers, so their view is the one that really matters - and with a grandfather who is a reviewer, they have seen enough shows to know what they are talking about.. Written by Head of Community Engagement at the Garrick, Jonny McClean, who also directs, the story is simple, brings in a big cast without overwhelming the stage or the audience and has original songs from composer Joel Hall and McClean making it a home grown production.

Toad was played by Holly Rice and what a brilliant job she made of it. She has a lovely voice, wonderful timing, an infectious sense of fun and you just hope you are going to see her soon in more conventional musical theatre – if anyone was made for it, then it seems to be her. What a Fanny Brice she would make! The stage belonged to her whenever she appeared.

Starring with her were Genevieve Richards as Ratty, the sensible one trying hard to at least limit Toad’s excesses and Bethan Parri as the shy and timid Mole, drawn to the adventure promised by the out of control amphibian hedonism of Toad.


Jayne Ison as the Chief Weasel wiv 'er gang of weasels n' stoats.

The pair contrasted well and have fine voices to provide a delightful support for the Flamboyant, with a capital F, Toad.

They are the goodies, well tearaway Toad just about a goody, while there is no doubt who the baddies are, ruling the roost in the Wild Wood, the weasels and the stoats.

Jayne Ison is the Chief Weasel, a sort of EastEnders/Bill Sykes/Ray Winstone composite, gorrit! Nah shuddit? The chief is backed up with four of each, weasels and stoats, with the sycophantic Ashley Laight, Weasel 1, as a loyal and nasty lieutenant.

Cleverly the baddies are pantomime bad. Repulsive, nasty but still fun which means young children can enjoy their boundless enthusiasm for evil without being frightened.

Down on the riverbank and in the Wild Wood, humans are in short supply, so Christine Wright’s vole moonlights as a magistrate with shrew Sarah Williams as the clerk. Ellie Whitford is another vole, but happily dons a frock as a serving girl at the local chokey where Toad has been incarcerated for 20 years.

Jail? Well, it started with boats, then he decided he was into caravans, then moved on to cars and 20 crashes later, the last one in a stolen car, life caught up with him with, well, sort of life, so to speak.

Meanwhile back to second jobs, no, not MPs, animals - do keep up. We have the moorhens, who, to be fair, usually look like extras from The Crucible, and Amelia Minihane and Isabelle Tanner, stroll in, evenin’ all, as the local constabulary, with Giorgiana Bagshaw roughing it as a barge woman putting the pompous Toad in his place, Toad being on the run after escaping from jail as a washer woman, don’t ask . . .

And we have to have a wise old sage, so enter Ivor Williams as Badger, the man even the baddies are wary of crossing and he is the man with a secret to defeat the weasels and stoats in the final battle.


Ivor Williams as Badger with Mole in the background

It was a nice touch to have a mouse choir, to introduce 12 youngsters for a Christmas song, under head mouse Paul Cornhill and his deputy Katie O’Neill, who, incidentally, makes ends meet by also working as a train driver – another of Toad’s escape helpers.

It brings in a group of youngsters without holding up or changing the traditional tale. You do wonder though why four of the twelve little mice were without lanterns . . . austerity on the riverbank perhaps.

Everything is kept moving by a fine five piece band under musical director Rob Murray while costumes by Garrick regular designer John Brooking add to the colour and effective idea of animals without going full Lion King, having the Otter family looking like a swimming team, was a lovely idea for example.

Evie Frosdick’s set is a masterpiece in simplicity. A raised platform at the rear became all manner of homes from Mole to Badger, Ratty to Toad Hall, while railway engines, trains, cars, boats, barges jail exits, even steps to a caravan were no more than a collection of suitcases and imagination.

Opening night had a few sound problems. Mole’s opening song sounded as it was coming from a 1950’s radiogram hidden in a cave, and there were moments early on when the onstage band and singers were fighting each other as to which would be heard most, but it settled down as the night went on. Opening nights can always create problems.

All the finally tuned settings in an empty theatre vanish like a fading echo when the rather large inconvenience of an audience arrive, plonk themselvs down and mess it all up. It all seemed sorted well before the end though.

It is lovely family show for all ages, a community show for the whole community. To 29-07-23.

Roger Clarke


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