BWW Review: THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, Stepney City Farm
Take one of the best-loved stories for children and some fantastic food served by waiters who are also the actors and you have the latest project from Scripts For Supper, creators of immersive theatrical and dining experiences. The Wind In The Willows, adapted and performed in a series of London city farms, follows the adventures of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad as they explore life, loyalty and what it really means to be friends.
The production manages to fit the entire story into five short 'acts', between which the food is served. The five actors work tirelessly, injecting an infectious energy into the show and demonstrating good musical skills as they act and sing their way around the audience.
Elizabeth Schenck organises the group as the capable and friendly Narrator, guiding the story and often the cast. Coco Maertens is a cute and charming Mole, shuffling and snuffling shyly around. Despite a slightly inconsistent German accent, she makes an entertaining washer-woman, especially as she consoles Toad in her cell.
Paul Brayward is an upstanding Ratty, well-spoken and dressed as though on his way to the Henley Regatta. He has a touching chemistry with Maertens, as the production gives the relationship between Mole and Ratty a sweetly romantic twist.
Bad-tempered Badger is a loud Matthew Emeny, complete with bobbly cardigan and West Country burr. He also makes a very funny appearance as the severe judge. Sian Keen is suitably larger than life as Toad, fizzing in a bundle of energy and enthusiasm.
The story is very well interpreted, with lovely touches such as the use of fresh flowers, leaves and pieces of white napkins (torn up by the audience) being thrown to signal the changing seasons. The only scenes that fall a little flat are the sections with the inhabitants of the Wild Wood. The fight to recapture Toad Hall is valiantly performed, but is difficult to pull off with just five actors and, as a result, is a bit messy and lacks drama.
There is great versatility found in very simple props such as a wooden crate on wheels which acts as a boat, a car, a dock in a court and a jail cell, amongst other things. There is also frequent use of a pink feather duster and two wooden benches, but it is the cast that create much of the scenery and atmosphere themselves, morphing into trees in the Wild Wood and doors into the homes of the characters. Children will be enchanted.
Another thing that sets this production apart is the quality of the food. Cooked by Juanita Hennessey, a 2016 Masterchef finalist, it is a thoughtful and delicious menu inspired by the story. Enough time is given to eat and savour each course, without losing the flow of the story. The clever reason for this is that there are five small courses, rather than three larger ones.
The audience is greeted with a gin cocktail with homemade lemon fizz and delicious bubble and squeak pasties with a salsa verde. First course is a creamy and very tasty watercress and pea soup, with asparagus, which is served with a little jug for topping up. Second course is an inventive lamb, houmous and herbs on toast, tingling with a judicious sprinkling of sumac. Third up is a delicious ham hock and leek crumble and finally is a standout guava and fizz posset with warm butter biscuits, which was as delicious as it sounds.
The production design is very appealing. Picnic tables topped with fake, but not tacky, grass and flowers are accompanied with vintage-style cutlery and crockery. Although the production takes place all around the tables, the main action is centred in the middle, as the tables flank the sides. The only problem with using picnic tables means that those sitting with their backs to the middle, have to either crick their necks to see behind them, or swivel right around on their seats.
Immersive theatre with dining can be very pricey; the tickets prices for the upcoming Mamma Mia! The Party start from £150 each. Here, adult tickets are £45, which is exceptional value for the quality of both the production and the food.
This is a bucolic and gently charming production. Adults and children alike will be enchanted with this inventive re-telling of such a well-loved tale.
Photo Credit; Scripts For Supper