Wind in the Willows

Date 26th April 2019
Society Encore Productions
Venue The Brindley Theatre, Runcorn
Type of Production Musical
Director Nick Cupit
Musical Director Andy Davies
Choreographer Natasha Bill

Report

Author: Joe Clarke

Encore Productions kicked off their 2019 season with a fantastic production of the musical Wind in the Willows at The Brindley Theatre, Runcorn, this week.  Written by Styles and Drew, Wind in the Willows premiered in 2016, making its West End debut in 2017.  A great musical with a brilliant score, it’s hard to understand why this wasn’t a massive success in the West End.  This version, produced and directed by Nick Cupit, was a visual treat for the eyes.  The set was very minimalistic with numerous curtains flown in from the gods to create locations - but that’s all it needed.  Adding an outstanding lighting design, this enabled each location to be established and tone to be set.  Nick Cupit has a fantastic ability to produce amazingly visual productions and this show was in the same vein as others.  The clever setting and direction enabled the space to be used as a blank space for acting and choreography.  There were a few times when the action was slightly too far back, such as the courtroom scene but I’m being very picky here.  This production used costumes to establish character.  I would dare to be as bold to say that the costume design, created by Encore members, was nothing short of genius!  I would’ve preferred if the company of actors had just more animalistic characteristics to establish character, rather than relying on costume but this is just a personal point of view.  I also felt that having some of the cloths flying in in the middle of a scene could’ve been viewed that they were late being flown in.  There were also some slight issues with storytelling but for those of us who already know the story, we were able to sit back, relax and be thoroughly entertained.  I really enjoyed the addition of using children as the smaller animals.  Children were used well throughout.  Stand out moments were the opening ‘Spring’, which gave me goosebumps, and ‘We’re Taking Over the Hall’, which was very entertaining!

Natasha Bill was at the helm for Encore’s choreography.  Natasha has a great ability to create movement pieces, using motifs and repetition whilst keeping it fresh and new.  I loved the small movements in ‘One Swallow Does Not A Summer Make’ as well as the company choreography in ‘We’re Taking Over the Hall’.  As I mentioned above, I would’ve preferred to see more animalistic characteristics being used by the company but there were numerous times throughout when individuals did this. 

Andy Davies was the musical director for this production.  I could not fault the direction of the music at all.  The orchestra were superb and the harmonies from the cast were outstanding.  I was particularly impressed with the soprano’s throughout.  Andy Davies has clearly worked hard, and it has certainly paid off!  Wow!

The set and costumes were nothing short of outstanding.  The clever use of costumes to establish character was superb.  I think the costumes for the owls, foxes, swallows and beavers is nothing short of genius!  Well done to Annabelle Taylor, Christina Wernham and the whole team for their fantastic efforts.

The lighting was equally brilliant.  I adored the colours used and the way that the lights were used to create location, tension and tone.  There were a few times when the actors didn’t hit their pool of light and a few times when the follow spot was late, but I doubt any of the audience noticed this. 

The sound was very good also.  I usually have a problem with some of the levels at The Brindley but not during this production.  I loved the fact that I could hear each part of the orchestra playing the fantastic score – well done to Danny Clare and his team.

The main cast in this production were all very well cast.  Toad was played by Seb Farrell.  Seb brought a brilliant sycophantic side to Toad which made the selfish side more likeable.  Seb is a great storyteller and used his body extremely well to convey character and aid the plot.  Seb exuberated confidence, which again, made his character and his performance very easy to watch.  He also worked well with others on stage and gave a very entertaining performance.

Badger was played by Andy McQuoid.  Andy was well cast and was able to portray the leader of the group of friends.  Andy used his physicality and his voice well to convey the pompous yet wise side to his character.

Mole, played by Blair Smith, was the star of the show for me.  Blair WAS Mole throughout and was very enjoyable to watch.  He displayed some lovely vocals, told his story very well and was so cute that I want to be Mole’s friend!

Rat was played by Josh Hankey.  Josh displayed some brilliantly strong vocals.  ‘Messing about in a Boat’ with Blair, was beautifully sung.  Josh had a brilliant diction and projection and was well cast as the main storyteller.  I would’ve preferred if Josh had used his body and facial expressions more to establish character but I’m being very picky here.

Daniel Richter played the role of Chief Weasel.  Daniel was very entertaining and used his voice and his movement extremely well to portray his character.  Daniel was suitably entertaining as Chief Weasel and worked very well with his team of other weasels.  Daniel was very watchable during the whole company scenes; staying in character throughout.  ‘We’re Taking Over the Hall’ was excellent!

Claire Cannon (Mrs Otter) and Laura Cupit (Portia) gave fantastic vocal performances.  They also were very likeable and suitably funny.  If I didn’t have my programme with me, I wouldn’t have understood that they were otters.  I didn’t get their costume or otter characters from their portrayals.  They were also ever so slightly too naturalistic amongst the heightened characters around them, for me.

Sheryl Stoat (Annabelle Taylor) and Lesser Weasel (Chris Doyle) were very entertaining sidekicks to Chief Weasel.  All three had a great rapport and worked very well throughout.  Each used their bodies very well to establish character and aid storytelling and each sang very well to show the great harmonies.

A special mention has to go to Mr and Mrs Hedgehog (Jake Liken & Gemma Thorniley) who were very entertaining during their song ‘The Hedgehog’s Nightmare’ which was one of the more memorable moments.  Another mention has to go to the brilliantly entertaining Julie Lord who gave a brilliant performance as the tap dancing, chain-smoking horse!

There are far too many other cast members to mention in this review, but their performances were brilliant, with no weak links.  Vocally, Encore Productions are one of the best, and this production was a brilliant showcase yet again to display those vocals.  I thoroughly enjoyed this production and hope that other societies think about putting on this musical as it offers a great showcase for a large company of actors. 

In one of the musical numbers, the cast sing “And as our journey’s end, a friend is still a friend”.  I could tell that every single actor on stage was singing those lines with truth and sincerity.  It was abundantly clear that the cast were having the time of their lives in this show, which, in turn, made the audience want to be a part of the show.  Encore deserved their ovation at the end.  I congratulate them on a brilliant opening to their 2019 season and wish them all the very best for their next production of Summer Holiday.