25th June 2018
The Royalty Theatre are ending their 2017/18 season with a great classic children's story. Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, adapted for the stage by Mike Kenney, tells the unfortunate tale of Mr Toad of Toad Hall, his foolhardy adventures, and the attempts of his riverside friends, Ratty, Mole and Badger to save himself from his folly.
The first thing that sprang to mind at the thought of a stage production of this story, was how would they portray the characters? Would they go down the full animal costume and masks route - unlikely as the costs to do this well would surely blow the budget - or would they eschew the physical appearance and concentrate more on the mannerisms of each animal? I'm happy to say that the directors - Andrew Barella and Nikki Slack have opted for a half-way house - or maybe a three-quarter house. Some deft makeup gave each character a just a hint of the physical appearance, a little black nose, a sprinkling of whiskers, (quite dapper whiskers on the part of Ratty), bold stripes for Badger and a green forehead and fringe for Mr Toad. The rest of the characterisation is entirely done through the acting skills of the cast. Damien Wood in the guise of Badger moves and speaks ponderously in his thoughtful deep brock voice. Toad (full of his own importance) pontificates about his own greatness, sidling in and hijacking conversations, he oozes charm one moment and is petulant as a toddler the next. Billy Towers has the audience laughing out loud at the antics of Toad almost from the first moment he appears on stage.
The stars of the show though are Mole and Ratty. Two animals who form an unexpected and lasting friendship. Lee Wilkins excels at the arch look or eyeroll towards the audience to highlight a ridiculous statement from Toad. Throughout the play he is constantly living his character - even when the focus is not on him, he contributes a look or shrug, just the smallest movement to add something to the scene. His use of facial expression and physical humour puts me in mind of Stan Laurel.
Ratty and Mole messing about in boats
The main characters are ably supported by the ensemble cast who play a variety of minor characters from weasels to washerwomen (Julie Carney), Otters to posh ladies (Amy Dowell), hedgehogs to Engine Drivers to Rabbits (Charlotte Bishop and Ben Harrison) and the reluctant Horse, Train Guard and posh gentleman (Aidan Evans) each one adds their own bit of sparkle to the tale.
Mention should go to the technical team under Declan Mather for the music (strains of a spaghetti western), sound effects and lighting which create the sense mystery and magic, suspense and apprehension. And especially to David Farn and John Bailey for the set and props - the motor cars and the boats are an hilarious addition. Costumes are made by Laura Finlay and Sue Bailey and make-up is by Nik Grundison. Altogether they have produced a great set for the show.
This is a fun, warm and entertaining family show and is a fabulous feel good ending to their season. You'll laugh (probably more than you should if Toad's make-up gives way under the heat of the lights again) and you will leave the theatre with a happy smile on your face. What more could you want?
Tickets are just £8 (£6.50 conc) and can be booked online, over the phone 0333 666 3366 or in person at theatre. Full details here .
Photo credit: Royalty Theatre