BWW Reviews: SINCERELY, MR TOAD, Greenwich Theatre, September 10 2013
Behind the pastoral idyll of the English countryside that has enchanted readers of the Wind in the Willows for over a century, lies a tragic story of a life blighted by well-intentioned, but ultimately disastrous, paternal "support". Sincerely, Mr Toad (at Greenwich Theatre until 14 September and on tour) tells the tale behind the tale, that of author Kenneth Grahame's family - specifically his son Alastair, nicknamed Mouse, whose short life was immortalised as the template for Mr Toad. Given the mix of personalities involved, it's no surprise to find rather more in the way of tears on pillows than wind in willows, as dysfunctionality turns to tragedy.
Just an ordinary kid, Alastair (Keith Jack) is missing sight in one eye and labouring through childhood under the burden of constantly being described as "Perfect!" by his father Kenneth (Adam Venus). The author of the celebrated book is frustrated in his work at the Bank of England and engaged in continual passive aggressive conflict with his chronically pained wife (Sarah Borges). It's hardly a happy household.
Songs by David Wilson and Kate McIvor punctuate the story, told partly in flashbacks, the better to show how the father piled pressure on the son. Kenneth, having been denied so many opportunities in his own youth, wants everything for Alastair - but son is not father and the pushy parent pushed too far. The three principals get plenty of good support from another youthful but talented Sell A Door cast, singing, dancing and acting with great skill. The songs are catchy too.
Though a fine production in many ways, the show is flawed by the difficulties within its material.The Grahames are well-meaning, but compelled to thwart each others' dreams, each a slave to personality defects that they are unable to defeat. Watching three intelligent, caring people tear each other apart, isn't easy - for all the singing and dancing that accompanies their spirals into despair.