Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The Wind in the Willows, Jan 7, 2009 ****

The Wind in the Willows adapted from Kenneth Graham
Where and When: Botanical Gardens, Gate F. until January 28
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

How can you resist a show that seats you beside the lake in the Botanical Gardens during summer, with the kids, a picnic and jokes for oldies and youngies? The Wind in the Willows is back in the Gardens and it still delights its audience.

The cast sees some more changes this year but stalwart, Roscoe Mathers, deserves a veteran’s jersey for his years as the M.C. of the show, Head Chief Rabbit. Mathers’ playful, charming manner engages the crowd of little ’uns from the start and his patter with Robert Jackson, the oily Weasel, elicits giggles from the parents. Mathers and Jackson are a great double act and have the added benefit of being musicians.

If you missed Kenneth Graham’s story as a child, the egocentric Mr. Toad (Andrew Dunne) lives at the lavish Toad Hall and, like all affluent dilettantes, gets obsessed with one fad after another. He gives up boating after he capsizes his canoe – to the delight of the kids. Friends, admirers and critics surround Toad.

Sean-James Murphy plays the gruff, old Badger who “knew all the Toads” and thinks the current Mr. Toad is letting his family down. Ratty (David Bailiht OK), the water rat, loves a picnic but thinks Mr Toad a bit too adventurous and Mole (Michelle Hall), a shy, stammering clean-freak, admires Mr Toad’s audacious spirit. A cheerful Otter (Jon Boad OK) and his fearless son, Portly (Harry Stapleton), complete the friends of Toad.

There is never a dull moment as Toad falls out of his boat, careers into a policeman in his new golf jeep, goes to court, is imprisoned by the Weasel and enlists his friends to reclaim Toad Hall from the rascally Weasel who invades it. The animals sing plenty of perky songs including the sing-a-long “Waggle your ears, wiggle your nose, and sing whispering willows”, The Famous Mr. Toad and the Duck Ditty.

There is even some running around time. The kids, in either the Badger Batallion or Rat Pack, go hunting in the Wild Wood for lost little Portly while the parents are treated to their own entertainment back at base camp. Take a picnic, a hat, some sunscreen and a kid or two and sing along with these very British animals.

By Kate Herbert

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