BWW Review: THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, Rose Theatre
After the success of 2015's A Christmas Carol, Kingston's Rose Theatre have again turned to talented Ciaran McConville for their festive show. This year sees a joyful and festive adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's much-loved children's tale of love and friendship, The Wind in the Willows.
As little Mole emerges from his burrow in search of adventure, he finds a new world of picnics, motorcars, terrifying weasels and ultimately friendship.
The cast is a wonderful combination of professional actors and a rotating cast of talented members of the Rose Youth Theatre.
Gary Mitchinson's Mole is soft and gentle, with a slight northern lilt to his accent. Emma Pallant makes a genial and warm Ratty; the developing friendship between her and Mole is tender and touching. Derek Elroy's Badger has such a commanding and resonant tone to his voice that the audience is instantly reassured by his presence.
Jamie Baughan is simply brilliant as the ebullient and reckless Toad. It doesn't hurt that he bears an uncanny resemblance to Boris Johnson, both in his blustering mannerisms and his physical appearance, albeit that Toad has green rather than blond hair. He has a commanding stage presence and embraces every facet of the role, especially the moments of comedy.
The younger members of the cast are impressively professional; their contribution to the songs and dance routines is particularly proficient. Amelie Abbott excels as the shy and unsure Doris Dormouse and Milly Stephens is simply adorable as the sweet and cheeky Kitten Rabbit.
A standout performance comes from Oliver Smith as villainous Chief Weasel, brilliantly portrayed as a despotic Russian commander, complete with red and black flags and bedecked with medals and a huge fur hat. He flings himself around the stage and barks his lines like a true mini dictator.
McConville maintains the light and shade of the book with the bucolic riverbank picnics and a genuinely scary Wild Wood. He cleverly retains some of Grahame's poetic writing through the use of three narrators, who also deftly move the story along. The addition of catchy songs and music adds to the fun of the production, along with a few cheeky jokes for the adults.
The one part of the production that is less successful is the fight scene at Toad Hall, where the Riverbankers take on the evil animals of the Wild Wood. There is just too much happening on the stage at once and important moments such as Badger being threatened are lost.
Peter Todd creates a very clever use of costume; rather than having the cast simply dress up in animal costumes, he makes use of more everyday clothing, along with softly knitted ears, drawn-on whiskers and the occasional fluffy tail to convey each character.
Timothy Bird's smart set shows impressive gnarled wooden branches creating a high canopy over the stage, but it is his use of projection, combined with Aideen Malone's lighting, that makes this production magical. Ratty, Badger and Mole's homes can be seen in detail and the river along which Ratty rows seems to flow upon the stage, as the riverbank rushes behind. It is beautifully done.
This joyous production is a sweet and heart-warming story of friendship and is ideal festive fair whether you are six or sixty.
Photo Credit: Mark Douet