Wind in their sails for top show

NADV 1205033 Toad of Toad Hall cast. (1205033AM1)
NADV 1205033 Toad of Toad Hall cast. (1205033AM1)

IT’S springtime and curious Mole, bored with housework, leaves his molehill to explore.

At the riverbank he meets Ratty, a laid-back water rat. The two quickly become firm friends and Ratty introduces Mole to the exuberant Toad, a creature with a penchant for extravagant hobbies.

When Toad becomes obsessed with motor cars, his increasingly wild driving causes great concern, so the threesome enlist the help of wise Badger.

This then, is where the classic tale, The Wind in the Willows begins and takes off, and has been delighting readers young and old for generations. It is a wonderful tale of mysticism, adventure, morality and camaraderie, written in 1908 by Kenneth Graham.

Alan Bennett’s nostalgic stage adaptation conjures up the rural riverbank of England in Graham’s day, when there actually were water rats, otters and badgers a plenty.

It is true that some jokes contained within – and there are many, skilfully delivered by this talented cast - are meant for the adults in the audience and may well go over children’s heads, but they are always clever and always clean, so be prepared to laugh during this sparkling HDS production by father and daughter team Rachel Conyers and Robin Green.

The staging is minimal but most effective thus ensuring that Wednesday’s audience at Harrogate Theatre were able to identify themselves with the actors rather than admire the view – although this at times was difficult thanks to some wonderful models of a train, a barge, a caravan, a rowing boat and of course, Mister Toad’s rather splendid car.

Following a rather apologetic start on opening night, in spite of a charming child’s solo song, the story took off, thanks to the four main characters of Darren Smith’s Mole, seeing the wide world as if for the very first time, and a pedantic Ratty, played with authority and style by Stuart Newsome.

The worldly, self-obsessed Toad, a part which Michael Garside attacked with enormous energy, was a perfect foil for John Glyn Jones’s laid back character of Badger.

Together, they established themselves into a dynamic quartet, backed by a superb team of nasty Weasels and Stoats led by a swaggering and confident Judi Kenley.

There were many assorted cameo parts including an excellent interpretation of Albert, the horse, played by a strong Stuart Kellett, a lusty bargewoman from Alissa Reilly and a delightful portrayal by Lucy Evans as the gaoler’s daughter.

As for the many children, they were a joy – confident in movement, song and speech - and obviously having a wonderful time.

Wind in the Willows speaks directly to generations for whom childhood is now a memory rather than a current adventure, as well as to those youngsters for whom their place in the world is now beginning to open up and make sense.

The show continues until Saturday evening, including a Saturday matinee, so do go and see it if you can find tickets

You’ll all love it!

Barry Atkinson