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Brief Encounter With ... Colin Richmond

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The Wind in the Willows blows in to the West Yorkshire Playhouse this winter. Hannah Giles spoke with the production’s designer, Colin Richmond.

With previews underway, what kind of feedback has the show received? How are audiences responding?

It's received great feed back so far. There really is something for everyone in the family in this show. We've pressed to great reviews. It's a just a gloriously warm show for these cold nights.

Have you enjoyed working in Leeds? How well does the West Yorkshire Playhouse lend itself to a production of this type?

I love working in Leeds, they have been so good to me over the past few years in terms of shows. It's a building where you can really explore and experiment with theatre. There's something about the shape of the Quarry stage and theatre that means you have to really work hard to make the production work, all the usual rules don't apply when in that space. But once you have cracked it, it is the most rewarding thing for an audience and can be really immersive theatre experience.

WYP have shown over the years that they can produce enormous shows, Wind in the Willows is actually a bit smaller in comparison to what they have achieved in the past, that's not to say it's not a feat in itself. It's a building full of people who care a great deal about what they do with always one eye on their audience. Their attention to the detail is impeccable. It's just a joy to be surrounded by people who love their jobs and love their theatre and what it can give to the people who come to watch their work.

Where there any specific challenges to overcome in putting the riverbank set together?

The main challenge comes from the script. As beautiful as it is, it's episodic and fast moving. It keeps you on your toes as a designer but more so as a member of crew and stage management. The challenge was creating something that evokes the Riverbank and the English landscape but allows us transitions between exterior and interior in the space of four bars of music. Thinking about it simply and economically give the whole design space and air to breathe, allowing us emphasis on story and character. The devil is in the detail within each scene, there's only ever enough on stage to tell in the story in the best possible way that we saw fit.

For those unfamiliar with Wind in the Willows, can you explain a little about the story and characters?

Moley, fed up with spring cleaning, burrows onto the river bank and discovers a whole world and set of characters unknown to him, meeting his friend Ratty first as he rows down the river who in turn introduces him to Badger and the eccentric Toady. It's Toad who picks up the baton in terms of story when we follow his love for everything with wheels or an engine, his obsessions see him travel with his friends in a caravan, a car, another car, a train, a barge. When Toady's antics get him thrown into prison, his whole livelihood and precious Toad Hall are taken over by the weasels. Once Toad has successfully escaped from prison he re-unites with his best friends to take back what is rightfully his and restore the peace on riverbank.

What do you think Alan Bennett’s adaptation brings to the classic story?

It has such heart and warmth. He fuses his usual charm, wit and humour into something that appeals to every age. He gives it everything the book has but moves it along at a pace still allowing us complete understanding of each character and their animal attributes. His fusing of the animal and human world makes complete sense too. It's a really beautiful thing to design as well, the detail within it and the number of locations keep us focused at all times.

How have you found working with (director) Ian Brown and the rest of the creative team?

It's the third time I've worked with Ian. He's fun to work with, he gives you a free rein to explore all your ideas and then will only pull back when he feels the need. It's very freeing. He gets the best out of everyone this way. The rest of the team have been a dream too, such as Chris Davey, who's exquisite lighting does a massive job in the changing of seasons and making the set constantly interesting and different as it revolves into it's various formations. Lucy Hind's brilliant movement and characterisations for the cast are just beautiful too and make our parallels with the animal kingdom eerily similar. Mic Pool’s brilliant soundscapes and effects evoke a riverbank that's constantly babbling and breathing. Then backstage we have wonderful set construction, painting, props, wardrobe and stage management team who give their lives for about 5 weeks constant of the year to the Christmas show. There is an enormous amount of care taken into taking the designs and transferring them to the stage.

What can younger audiences expect from this version of Wind in the Willows? Is there something in it for adults too?

Cars, barges, boats, trains, fields, rivers.... not to mention cute rabbits, cute mice, cute squirrels, a naughty toad, a cuddly badger, the list is endless. Adults are going to love all these things too, it really has something for everyone.

The Wind in the Willows runs at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 19 January 2013. For more information visit www.wyp.org.uk


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