Review: Wind in the Willows, York Theatre Royal

Poop poop! Wind in the Willows returns. Photo: Allan Scott

  Wind in the Willows
  York Theatre Royal, August 1

“All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.” – Mr Mole.

And indeed it was with great wonder that my family and I were treated and enchanted in equal measure by tales from the riverbank.

Kenneth Grahame’s masterpiece, the classic children’s story ‘The Wind in The Willows’ returned to The Theatre Royal after a storming success in 2010. Adapted by Mike Kenny, who brought us the wonderful Railway Children, he breathes the freshest of country air into this gentle pastoral English tale – our imagination instantly captured and teaming with riverbank life as the spirited friends delve into wild adventure and a little criminal activity.

At the centre of this timeless tale is river life and friendship. The four main characters – Toad, Rat, Mole and Badger exist quietly until the reckless Toad (of Toad Hall) discovers the motor car. Madcap antics ensue as his friends try to save him from himself (and prison). The journey (both physically and emotionally) changes pace in tune with the passing seasons and flow of the river.

wind-in-the-willows-york-1
Fight club, only with waistcoats and oars: Photo: Allan Scott

“I can smell Toad Hall!” (musty) exclaimed Freddie (my eight year old) as we toured backstage before the performance. Mingling with the otters and badgers and “messing about in boats” beforehand, it really felt like we were part of the production. We shot down Mole’s hole and emerging into the light again my daughter Imogen (twelve) asked if we too could hear the night’s sky? Pure magic.

As a piece of staging it’s brilliant –  the once grand now dilapidated Toad Hall crumbles majestically centre stage a bit like Toad’s hair brained and reckless schemes. The world of Riverbank and Wildwood were brought intimately to life with an earthy and homespun charm. Rickety, dusty scaffolding gave weight to this multi-layered tale.

The cast were lively and engaging, never passing up an opportunity to elicit interaction from the young fans. In particular the interval cricket match with Mole and Ratty batting balls aloft into the auditorium to the delight of the audience.

Wonderful and vibrant performances from all, with Mole, Ratty and Badger narrating the tales with real feeling. One of the highlight’s was Ratty’s impressive tenor voice. Martin Barrass played a superb Mr Toad who lit up the stage with his exuberance and larger than life character.

Overall the show was thoroughly enjoyable, great fun and my two children left the theatre excitedly discussing their highlights of the performance.