The Wind in the Willows

Date 22nd November 2019
Society Starlight Theatre Productions
Venue Tyne Theatre & Opera House
Type of Production Musical
Director Val Shield
Musical Director Andrew Soulsby
Choreographer Jenn Rouse
Producer Ken Anderson

Report

Author: Michael Lee Avery

I saw a non-musical version of “The Wind in the Willows” by Alan Bennett three years ago and, at that time, acknowledged a gap in my education, having navigated childhood without ever reading any of Kenneth Grahame's writings about the denizens of the river bank and the wild wood.  Somehow, though, I was already quite familiar with these characters.  Now, I am something of an expert!

This version is a musical one, written by Julian Fellowes with music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe who wrote additional songs for the theatrical version of “Mary Poppins”, for which Fellowes also wrote the book.  This is a big show with a myriad of characters, most adult cast members playing as many as four parts.  Backstage must have been chaotic at times.  Director Val Shield, Musical Director Andrew Soulsby and Choreographer Jenn Rouse are to be commended, as are the backstage team for so effectively managing such a large and busy cast.

The central focus is Mr Toad of Toad Hall - wealthy, full of fun, amiable and generous but, unfortunately, something of a self-important dilettante.  David Bruce suits his part perfectly, as do Andy Oliver (as Mole) and Adam Donaldson (as Ratty).  Mole is a little lost, enjoying a rare adventure above ground.  Ratty is the perfect guide to both river bank and woods.  Their encounters with Toad leave them a little baffled and anxious as his rather bombastic ways lead him into prison where he must exercise his wiles on the Gaoler’s daughter (Kim Wilde) as they share the song “To Be A Woman” whilst she dresses him as a woman to facilitate escape. 

The ever-reliable Kevin Gilroy plays the more serious Badger and gets to sing a rather pleasant song, “A Friend is Still a Friend”, performed well, as one would expect.  Although Badger would prefer to be left in peace he comes into his own and helps them secretly regain access to Toad Hall and dispossess the woodland creatures who have taken up residence in Toad’s absence.

Linda Short (Mrs Hedgehog and other parts), Alan Tomkins (the Magistrate and others), James Forster (the Chief Weasel etc.), Imogen Evans (Portia) and Angela Evans (Mrs Otter) each deliver some amusing touches in their various diverse parts.  The music, probably unknown before rehearsal started, is tuneful and gives opportunity to the cast (22 adults and 24 children) to sing and dance some pleasantly entertaining numbers together and individually. Two particularly noticeable ensemble numbers are the opening “Spring” and “As If In a Dream”.  “One Swallow” is performed prettily by the Three Swallows (Kim Wilde, Antoinette Brindley, Louise Armstrong).  

I must be honest and admit to finding the show a little lengthy although I suspect it was not particularly aimed at me. This was, however, an impressive performance, by a talented cast, of a new and unfamiliar musical, with many amusing, entertaining and affecting moments throughout.