Splats Entertainment's production of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows was designed as a Christmas play, and this is evident in the audience participation, which is almost panto-esque. There are plenty of amusing moments and the characters are larger-than-life, but it doesn't quite provide enough energy to really get a big audience reaction.
The quiet tranquillity of the riverbank is shattered by the hilarious antics of Mr Toad of Toad Hall, whose adventures become steadily grander as he travels from boats, to horse-drawn carts, to- horror of horrors- cars. His reckless reputation worries his friends, Ratty, Mole and Badger. Is a spell in prison the only way to make Mr Toad see the error of his ways?
A cast of six cleverly portray more than double that amount of characters by playing several roles each and using rather charming puppets, which are particularly popular with the youngest audience members.
Neil Gore's Mr Toad is the best thing about the production. The energy he puts into the performance is admirable, and he gets as much comedy out of the character as possible, particularly in his amusing (self-composed) songs. Though a little repetitive, the upbeat numbers are received with roars of approval by children in the audience.
Alex Dower as the well-meaning, river-loving Ratty is also very endearing. And his sweet little song about how much he likes "messing about in boats" is well performed. Narrator Katy Bartrop tells the story clearly and with enthusiasm, though the sickly-sweetness of her character may grate on the over-fives.
The set, by Colin Winslow, is beautifully designed. It opens out from an enormous version of the book into a pretty, leafy backdrop, including a gauze, which is wittily used to depict characters travelling by projecting images onto it while the actors stand behind it. This works particularly well when the daring and highly mischievous Mr Toad buys, drives and crashes a number of cars, giving the piece a cartoon-like quality.
The Wind in the Willows is a strong ensemble piece and good fun for children, but it may prove tiresome for the parents as there is not much to inspire those over the target age of about seven.
- Caroline Ansdell (reviewed at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London)