Ratty, Toad and co in safe hands at the Playhouse

14 Dec 2012 @ 7.00 am
| Entertainment

West Yorkshire Playhouse’s trailer for Wind In The Willows

Review: The Wind in the Willows
Venue: West Yorkshire Playhouse, December 10 matinee

Alan Bennett’s adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s classic story has made a welcome return to The West Yorkshire Playhouse in this charming production directed by Ian Brown. It’s his first show here since stepping down as artistic director and the second time he’s directed it, so it’s in very safe hands.

Colin Richmond’s sympathetic design includes a revolving set and an additional revolve in the floor, allowing locations to change and vehicles to travel. But most exciting of all was the car, train and caravan on stage, all of which moved on their own wheels. The costumes and the interiors of the animals’ homes are full of delightful character details, like the bed in the bath in Ratty’s house and Mole’s modest kitchenette and bunk bed.

Poop, poop! Toad (Paul Kemp) hits the road. Photographs: West Yorkshire Playhouse

Bennett’s and Grahame’s language inter-mingle in this adaptation, with the former’s speech patterns occasionally jumping out of the text, particularly from the mouth of Toad, played with stout alacrity by Paul Kemp. He is joined by a very lovable Mole (Joe Alessi), a refined Ratty (Jack Lord), and a gruff Badger, played by Tony Jayawardena with a just a hint of Brian Blessed.

The other animals, doubling as Wild-Wooders, perform as an ensemble band of talented actor-musicians (including York’s own Lauryn Redding, a name to watch) who give the production its rhythm. Led by the Chief Weasel (Jack Whitam), played as the love-child of the Joker and Pete Doherty, the stoats and weasels infuse just the right degree of menace.

Lucy Hind’s choreography powers the ensemble and keeps the energy levels high. Her movement expertise is behind the excellent physicality of all the animals, particularly well-executed by Leon Scott as the energetic Otter and Tom Jude as Albert the Horse.

High energy levels: the cast of Wind In The Willows

The matinee audience consisted of four large, but incredibly well behaved, school groups, who were enthralled throughout, focused but never bored. The Wind in the Willows is a very polite brand of Christmas theatre, especially in the first half as there are few moments of audience participation, and the children of Leeds received it politely.

They were more animated with a bit of sugar inside them after the interval, loudly pitying poor Toad in his prison cell. A mixed-age evening audience will probably respond more vocally to the jokes and some of Bennett’s modernisations to the text, but this is a show you could take your youngest and oldest relatives to with the guarantee of a thoroughly entertaining, but never bawdy, evening out.

One word of warning, the first half is quite long, so make sure your pay a visit before you take your seat.