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The Wind in the Willows (Salford)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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The Library Theatre has a great reputation for producing fine festive family theatre and deservedly though. Their latest production - Alan Bennett's adaptation of the Kenneth Grahame classic The Wind in the Willows is quaint, cute, funny and has enough adult jokes to keep you going but the sluggish pace and lack of audience interaction does jar slightly.

Chris Honer has assembled a brilliant cast who add shine and sheen where required and they inhabit the roles with ease and a sense of wonder. The look of the characters is intriguing too as many of them resemble famous people, physically and vocally. Toad as played by Paul Barnhill is very Boris Johnson but green, Badger (Robert Calvert) is like a band member of the Damned, Mole (Sophie Gajewicz) resembles Sue Perkins and Rat (Christopher Wright) looks like he should be accompanying Camilla Parker Bowles to a private function as there is a touch of Prince Charles about him.

So far, so good but what the piece lacks is enough zip and kids invited to shape or help the narrative move along. One song "Where's Toad?" sees the characters asking where the affluent amphibian reptile has gone - an opportunity missed, as the little ones who were in the stalls on the night I attended wanted to assist the characters.

Judith Croft's sumptuous set design is as expertly crafted as you have come to expect, Nick Richings' lighting is also incredibly effective as it does illuminate this weird and wonderful world. Clare Neylon's video projections are very Blair Witch and sadly add nothing to the piece as the camera movement is simply too jerky to work effectively.

If you are seeking an alternative to the traditional pantomime for the family this Christmas, The Wind and the Willows will tick all of these boxes but many scenes do drag and the piece could do with some tweaks as some elements of the narrrative add nothing.

On the plus side, the cast are all excellent and evoke memories of the original text and they clearly relish Bennett's sparkling dialogue. And scene stealer Jason Furnival as Albert the horse is worth the admission price alone.

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