Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows is now 108 years old. No less a person than A.A. Milne adapted it for the stage in 1929. Personally I was introduced to the riverbank characters in comic form where Toad was known as Freddy Frog, leaving me totally confused when I eventually discovered Grahame’s book for myself – how dare this man plagiarise my favourite comic characters!
The Mercury Theatre in Colchester has brought these characters to life for a new audience of youngsters with their summer show directed by Matt Cullum.
It was interesting listening to the children before the lights went down. Those who knew the story trying to make out the set, those who didn’t thinking it all looked a little scary. Yes scary. Perhaps because The Riverbank was not the idyllic woodland setting you might think of but far more industrialised and city like. An abandoned shopping trolley, plastic bags – the detritus of any major city or town were there for all to see.
In the original book it is Mole who sets the adventures in motion as it is in this adaptation as Sam Pay emerges from his underground lair. Indeed for me it was Sam who made the show, this giant of an actor thinking nothing of carrying the diminutive Toad, played by Dale Superville, about the stage. Nor indeed is it often that you see a Mole playing a tuba. Simon Spencer-Hyde proved his versatility by playing a bunny, a butler, a judge and a gaoler seamlessly. At our performance serious kudos must go to Dale as Toad for his brilliant ad-libing when his trail of knotted sheets didn’t quite land where planned.
At times the shows borders on pantomime with suitable Benny Hill-escue chases around the auditorium. The water pistols were a welcome relief to those of us sitting near the front on a warm Saturday evening! Then there are times to when it becomes a slow reflective piece staying true to the original not lost on us adults.
There were a lot of happy young faces leaving the theatre – it you are struggling to find something for the small humans to do during the holidays a trip to the theatre might just be the diversion they need. It may even spark their imaginations, after all, isn’t that what theatre is all about?
Wind in the Willows runs at the Mercury Theatre Colchester until 21st August, plenty of time to book tickets for a treat of a show. Click here for detail and tickets.