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The Wind in the Willows (Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre)

The Chester venue returns with another fun-packed summer programme

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Alix Ross (Mole) and Daniel Goode (Toad) in The Wind in the Willows
© Mark Mcnulty

The Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre is back with a bang; and fortunately, the audience's happy anticipation was not marred by the intermittent church bells or even a racing commentary. Hard going for the cast to contend with but they rose, splendidly as ever, to the occasion.

So where to begin? The consistently witty dialogue, the superbly crafty staging - the remarkable players? What a pleasure to see pantomime stalwart, Adam Keast, as Ratty. What a surprise (or perhaps not) that the scene stealing came mostly from Daniel Goode as a totally endearing Toad who earned applause with nearly every appearance.

Adults are certainly not neglected in Glyn Maxwell's adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's classic. Thomas Richardson's Doris the Washerwoman gets tied up in knots, channeling 50 shades of something or other. Plus there are references to reality shows, while the evil woodland creatures keep things topical representing corporate greed; Graham O'Mara is the rapturously villainous leader of the gang, Pool the ferret.

A little quibble then, since not everybody may care for such a stance, nor the portrayal of the stoats; over eager beavers is one thing but Scouser scallies? That said, it made an interesting contrast with the menacing trio of gangster weasels and the oh so clever ferrets as chefs/librarians/nerds.

And we mustn't forget the other mainstays of the story; Alix Ross is as delightful as Mole as Sarah Quist, wise Badger, is resourceful. Louise Kempton too, Ruby the Gaoler's daughter, is feisty enough to face up to Toad, plus there were entertaining cameos from Jessica Clark (Woolpack the Judge) and Tom Connor (Coppitt the Copnstable)

And where to end? There's not enough space to give all the magnificent cast their due, or to make a start describing all the wonderfully clever touches that make Alex Clifton's production so memorable. Here's just one: a vibrant vase of flowers which magically becomes a glowing fire (okay, you really do need to be there and see for yourself).

Chester is a city known for its many splendours, and any visit should include Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre.

The Wind in the Willows runs in rep with productions of Romeo and Juliet and The Merry Wives of Windsor until 23 August

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