windy head

The Wind in The Willows

The Old Rep

****

THE enduring tale of Mr Toad, Ratty, who is actually a water vole and not a rat at all, Moley and the rest is brought to vibrant life on stage for a festive season at The Old Rep.

And what a delight to see that children are encouraged to use their imagination, the greatest special effect of all. This is a show that proves you don’t need CGI and SFX costing about the same as the GDP of a small state to capture the interest of children.

Hollywood, in particular, goes for more and more sophisticated imagery, often putting style over substance, forgetting that children can create entire worlds and thrilling adventures in dens made under a kitchen table.

All a child needs is a good story, well presented, with no boring bits and a few visual aids to jolly things along. Thus two lights as headlamps on a darkened stage, with sound effects becomes a car and a subsequent crash We forget children can create entire worlds in dens made under a table  in the mind of a child while the treads of a ladder become a jail cell.

Kenneth Grahame’s book was published in 1908, only five years before The Old Rep was built incidentally, and the story is a simple one of creatures living by the river in Edwardian England when the motor car was just appearing.

Ratty, Badger and Moley try to keep Toad of Toad Hall on the straight and narrow because despite being generous and kind in many ways he can be selfish and impetuous in pursuing anything he wants, in this case motor cars, which he wrecks on a regular basis, which gets him jailed.

BATTLE ROYAL

He escapes to find the Weasels, the baddies, have taken over Toad Hall which means a battle royal to evict them.

Birmingham writer and actor Dan Hagley is excellent as Toad, boastful, bumptious, pig headed and strangely likable while Alec Fellows-Bennett is a rather elegant and suave Ratty. And Edwardian gentleman about town, or at least river, par excellence.

And we have every sympathy with his exasperation with Toad’s hedonistic lifestyle, at least when it comes to his fads, whethere it be caravans or cars.

Mei Mac’s Mole is rather a timid companion, following on with a degree of trepidation, yet finding hidden bravery in the final battle of good against evil, or at least the likeable lot against the weasels and stoats lead by Chief Wesel Alexia McIntosh.

The characters are well supported by students from co-producers Birmingham Ormiston Academy who provide a lively ensemble and director Robert Marsden has created some nice touches, such as slow motion snapshots of crashes and flights which are remarkably effective, with children happily filling in the detail themselves. Scott Ritchie is the other producer, incidentally while Patrick Sandford wrote the script.

It’s not big budget, has no special effects to speak of, even Ratty’s boat for messing about on the river is only half a boat, scenery is minimal and functional rather than magnificent and flashy, but it works. It is a much loved story, told well, with enough to keep adults smiling while the real audience, the kids, seemed to love it. A festive family treat and an alternative to panto. To 31-12-16

Roger Clarke

05-12-16 

The Old Rep

Index page Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre