Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Wind in the Willows, York Theatre Royal - Friday 1st August 2014

I previously saw the award winning National Theatre production of The Wind in the Willows adapted by Alan Bennett back in May 1996 at Manchester's Palace excited seeing the York Theatre Royal's production

The adventure begins with a backstage tour of Ratty's river house, Mole's hole and descending deep down to Mrs Badger's abode! The main stage is set in the environs of Mr Toad's Hall which is believed that the play should be exclusively about him! Memories of reading Toad of Toad Hall stories in comics during one's childhood and it does make you wonder.  Still The Wind in the Willows it is for this York Theatre Royal production.  Visiting the characters habitats gets the mood going of what it is to be expected of the main characters and livelihoods.  The Wind in the Willows was written by Kenneth Grahame in 1908, adapted by Mike Kenny, and directed by Damian Cruden.  The production was premiered in 2010 and is making a return visit to the theatre's stage four years later in a new theatre configuration.  Some of the 2010 cast including Michael Lambourne (Weasel), Jonathan Race (Ratty) and Martin Barrass (Toad) have returned to reprise their roles.

Jacky Naylor and Robin Simpson in The Wind in the Willows 
Photo Credit: John Saunders

The characters in The Wind in the Willows tell their riverside stories; wild wood adventures and Mr Toad's spirited if not controversial journeys on the open road.  Friendships are explored such as the one between Mole (played by Robin Simpson) and Ratty whose personalities compliment one another.  Ratty's reassuring confidence strengthens the bond between him and Mole whose shyness and lack of confidence doesn't get the better of him when dealing with his life battles.  Ratty is responsible, looks out in his community and is aware of what is happening geographically and socially.  This is in contrast to Mr Toad whose arrogance and inconsiderate approach to life is portrayed pompously in his body language; his self destruction he brings on happens in his series of mishaps with his love for motor cars.  Both Ratty and Mole encounter the down to earth no nonsense Mrs Badger (played by Jacky Naylor) whose motherly and outspoken nature helps those who are in need and giving Mr Toad a life lesson or two about his conduct and life in general.  These characters are played excellently by Jonathan Race, Robin Simpson, Martin Barrass and Jacky Naylor.  Other characters make up the landscape such as the sinister Chief Weasel (played by Michael Lambourne); there is also Mr Rabbit (played by Josh Sneesby), Mrs Otter (played by Deborah Hewitt) and Mr Fox (played by Richard Mark) who doubles up as musicians.  The music played backs the actions and thoughts of the characters under the direction of Christopher Madin.

 Jonathan Race and Robin Simpson in The Wind in the Windows
Photo Credit: Nick Ansell

Life at the river bank appeals to audiences of all ages and this production particularly targets families.  Just like when Kenneth Grahame told stories of the river bank friends to his son, Alistair.  Children are enchanted with the characters and its fantastic interaction on and off stage and also visiting the characters home backstage.  It feels everyone are encouraged to be part of this wonderful theatrical production.  For older members of the audience, moral stories are being told among the messages being raised and how these affect everyone in society today as much as in the story.  The characters chant and sing about watching the world go by and not knowing how far they would go.  They recognise the need to move on when it's the time.  This is similar today as to how animals move whenever there is an environmental change in their natural habitat.  More poignantly, humans move to different abodes in the face of natural and ecological disasters.  Mrs Badger obviously seen this many times before.  She has decided the only way to deal with the unpredictability is to live deep down where she can stay forever and knowing that nothing will stay the same forever.  Her self sufficiency and keeping herself to herself approach contributes the stronghold of the community for one to turn to.

Jonathan Race, Jacky Naylor and Robin Simpson
Photo credit: James Drury

The Wind in the Willows raises how important community cohesion is to the riverbank friends.  Mr Toad's 'me' attitude and irresponsible independence threatens the tight knit community even if they recognise the imminent social changes that could happen and that Mr Toad is simply an independent character with a love of fast cars!  It isn't any different today with how the communities are affected whether naturally or socially with demands of modern society and technological advancement.  At the end of the play the characters review in song the moral lessons learnt and emphasises how important friendships are; how unpredictable life is; how materialism isn't the answer in reminding that one doesn't need mortar and bricks.

Richard Mark, Deborah Hewitt and Martin Barras in The Wind in the Willows
Photo Credit: James Drury

The designers, Catherine Chapman and Lydia Denno, conscientiously put together an amazing set on and back stage.  The lighting, by Richard G Jones, reflects perfectly the natural habitat whether it is the river bank or the wild wood and the moods during the performance.  The light harmonises the relevant sounds associated with the natural habitat and its ambiance and also the man made adventures by Mr Toad!

 Robin Simpson, Martin Barrass and Jonathan Race
Photo Credit: John Saunders

Overall a fantastic and positive production with a feel good sense of optimism for one and all.  The credit must go to the excellent cast including its young performers and its creative team.  A big thanks to Damian Cruden, York Theatre Royal's Artistic Director, who opens the opportunity for many to see this acclaimed production and those to make a return visit.  The production is on at the York Theatre Royal until Saturday 30th August 2014.  Please do visit the river side friends there.  Tickets can be booked via their website and its a summer family show not to be missed!

The Young People in The Wind in the Willows
Photo Credit: Allan Scott

Sources: York Theatre Royal and for photos James Drury, John Saunders, Allan Scott

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