Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Toad decks the hall with . . . jolly

Wind in the Willows

Dudley Little Theatre

Netherton Arts Centre


THERE'S a woman who insists on saying, “Och aye the noo” and there's a Black Country horse. There's fleeting anxiety for Mr Toad: “Perhaps he's been caught by the Weasels.”

Cue laughter all round.

It's a happy show, the Kenneth Grahame tale having been adapted by producer Andrew Rock – although when somebody comes along saying, “Has there ever been such a display of theatrical talent?”, it's perhaps pushing things a bit.

It's a no-frills production: not much in the way of scenery, and it is only Badger (John Lucock) and the ebullient Toad (Garry McWilliams) whose faces have undergone a serious transformation.

The other denizens of the River Bank include Rat, of course – but dear old Ratty (Kevin Stanley), with his blazer and flannels, could pass unchallenged at Henley Regatta. It doesn't matter that he is not remotely rat-like. What does matter is that he gets away with it with his confident contribution.

But what matters above all is that the production has in Mr Toad a centrepiece capable of carrying a load of absurd self-awareness and self-mocking moments – and Mr McWilliams does this with aplomb. Here is a Toad who is bumptiousness personified; a strutting, arrogant creature who is nevertheless likeable without being lovable – because lovable would be pushing it.


He poop-poops with gusto and he builds on his bravado when his need to escape the clutches of the law sees him enter stage-left as a buxom washerwoman.

He has adopted a high-decibel delivery so unflinchingly that prayers for his larynx would not be out of the way. But assuming that his voice-box retains its vigour he is outstandingly a Toad to be treasured.

Beside him, as Kenneth Grahame undoubtedly intended, all others pale – not into insignificance, but sufficiently for us to know that Toad is not going to have to fight off any competition. That is what Grahame intended 103 years ago, and that's what happens here. This is a Toad surrounded by unselfishness; a Toad with a team who are required to share the stage rather than shine on it. There can be no room for even one extra egomaniac This is strictly Toad territory.

Nevertheless, the animal kingdom is well represented throughout. Apart from Badger, there are Rat (Kevin Stanley), Mole (Rebecca Clee), a welter of Weasels led by Chief Weasel (Louise Lammas), plus assorted rabbits and a mouse.

There are some lovely lines, polished in their delivery and looking to the Black Country to provide that extra bit of memorability: “I can feel me clothes droppin' orf me back, even as we speak.” “Ta very much – yow'm very kind.” “'Ow me 'eart flutters!”

As it happens, there's not an undue amount of messing about in boats alongside this River Bank, but there's plenty in its place – not least, the amusing contribution from James Silvers, as the Judge. To 10-12-11

John Slim 

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