The Wind in the Willows

Date 12th May 2023
Society Peaslake Players
Venue Peaslake Village Hall
Type of Production Play
Director Nick Boisseau
Written By Kenneth Grahame, adapted by Alan Bennett

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Author: Pauline Surrey

Alan Bennett’s adaptation of the much-loved children’s story has become a classic in its own right.  It loses nothing of the gentle charm of the original, whilst adding a good deal of witty dialogue.  It is nostalgic for many of us, who heard it first on a parent or grandparent’s knee, and it is, above all, a story about friendship.

Peaslake Village Hall is a super venue for theatre, with a long stage, and long shallow auditorium, so one is never very far from the action.

The attractive programme gave us an interesting Director’s Note, with pieces on Kenneth Grahame and Alan Bennett, as well as fine cast profiles.

The scenery was simple, delightful, and very effective, with the green willow fronds descending all around, a doorway into a tree trunk, and some gnarled tree roots. The back screen was used for some ingenious still and video projections, especially impressive was the one where Toad crashed the car he had ‘borrowed’. Props were colourful and amazing, starting with Ratty’s rowing boat, Toad’s caravan, the motor car, the train, and the barge, and last but not least the astonishing campfire.  Great attention to detail throughout, which obviously adds to the enjoyment of the audience.

The campfire was not only flickering in the moonlight, it crackled too. Sound effects were marvellous, the river splashing and sploshing, the sound of the otters plunging in – large one for mum, small one for Portly, her kit.  Once again, attention to detail. It always pays off.

Costumes and makeup were super. Apart from Ratty’s natty and neat attire, and marvellous tail; Mole’s 1920s cosy fairisle tank top and round glasses; Badger’s comfy tweed suit and fine face; and Toad’s loud yellow tweed suit, motoring outfit, green face and hands, I was particularly amused by the fox dressed as a huntsman with riding crop. A lot of fun must have been had getting all this ready!

This was a fine production that transported us all back to a gentler time, not that it was without menace in the shape of the weasels and stoats from the Wild Wood, clad as 1920s New York gangsters, and very menacing they were too!

Ratty persuaded Mole to go ‘messing about in boats’ in his pretty rowing boat Arvicola, and composed his poem about ducks-a-dabbling. Innocent Mole (Lesley Lane) contrasted nicely with worldly wise Ratty (Tricia Monk), who enjoyed introducing him to life (and yummy picnics) on the river. In bounced the irrepressible Mr Toad (Felix Cuthbert) who persuaded a very willing Mole, and a rather reluctant Ratty, to accompany him on a trip in his lovely gypsy caravan. Three excellent performances here. Another fine character performance was the lugubrious and unfortunate Albert, the horse who had to pull the caravan and put up with constant slaps on the bottom. Great work from Mark Taylor, with good horse ‘body language’ too.

All the while, theses goings on are watched not only by the terrifying weasels and stoats, but also by the other creatures of the riverbank and woodland – squirrels, hedgehogs, rabbits, foxes. These were played very well by younger members of the Peaslake team, who also carried out the slick scene changes.

In the middle of winter, of course, Mole ventured into the Wild Wood and got lost, finally stumbling across Badger’s sett. Kim Ferguson was perfect as Badger, the comfortable and comforting, sensible, calm, jolly, intelligent, and reassuring father figure we were all so relieved to see. Ratty had joined them, and the three discussed what could be done about Toad.

After Toad’s crash, and his appearance before the marvellous Magistrate (Mike Sutton was memorable here), who was fishing for an invitation to breakfast at Toad Hall, we found Toad languishing in his prison cell serving his 20-year sentence (15 of which had been given him for insulting the court.)  Felix Cuthbert gave an excellent character study as Toad, reminding us that we all know such characters – vain, self-centred, convinced of their own importance, yet good to be with, and full of irresistible charm. (Now why do I find myself thinking of some of our figures in public life?)

Of course, Toad escaped, and after an eventful journey, plus another meeting with dear Albert the horse, made his way back to the riverbank. The battle for Toad Hall was cleverly executed, in slow motion, the weasels and stoats routed, and Toad finally did change his ways.

Director Nick Boisseau made an excellent job of directing this marvellous production of Grahame’s wonderful old tale, with great casting, lively action, fine characterisation, and good comic timing. It went out with a bang with a fine rendering of ‘When the Toad Came Home’.  A fabulous evening’s theatre.