Wednesday, 24 December 1997

WIND IN THE WILLOWS , Dec 24, 1997

WIND IN THE WILLOWS based on the book by Kenneth Graham.
by Australian Shakespeare Company
Botanical Gardens Gate F, Birdwood Drive,
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Dec 23, 1997

Did you know you can do 'weasel workshops' over summer if you want to learn how to be a sneaky creep?
As part of this season of Wind in the Willows, weasel workshops are being run so that the newly trained children can be 'extra' baby weasels for the evening shows. It keeps them off the streets.

Willows has become an annual event in the Botanical Gardens and, each season, a new crop of actors launches its version of the well-loved and well-worn characters. Toad  (of Toad Hall) is generally the most popular and Damien Richardson's Toad is no exception.

Toad is delightfully narcissistic, cowardly and childish in his obsessions with new fads such as canoeing and motoring. When he is arrested for dangerous unlicensed driving the children holler, "Send him to gaol!"

It is this frequent audience participation that makes what is sometimes a thin production into a novel event. The children, wearing rabbit badges, become honorary bunnies and are lead about by a very cool Rabbit (Matt Hetherington) and a very musical and sleazy Weasel (Stephen Gates).

They hunt for Portly, the lost baby otter (Chris Hocking), sing along with tunes, waggle their bunny ears, give advice to Mole (Anne Maloney) and Badger (Nick Clark) and call out suggestions to save Toad Hall from a massive Weasel incursion.

The musical elements are very successful. Two guitarists, Ratty (Glenn Perry) and Weasel keep the songs coming thick and fast while Otter (Nick Crawford-Smith) beats out rhythms and others sing harmonies.

This is almost a failsafe production for summer holiday audiences but it has a few problems. Outdoor theatre wears out actors' voices and many of the voices are already weakened with bellowing. The direction could take the physical clowning and visual comedy further with more slapstick and detailed business to fill some yawning gaps.

The location is as much a star as any character. Ratty arrives by boat on the lake, Toad falls out of his canoe backwards, Weasel perches in a tree, bunnies search for Portly under trees laden with rudely awoken fruit bats. It is a gorgeous site for a family picnic, so take a rug and champagne.


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