The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame, adapted and directed by Martin Riley
Produced by Ratatat Theatre Company Ltd
Helmsley Art Centre and touring
In theatre there are many ways to feel blessed behind, upon and afore the stage. Ratatat's touring production of Martin Riley's new adaptation of The Wind in the Willows privileges its audience with the timeless joy of small scale touring theatre: four dedicated thesps acting their socks off and giving every indication that they are enjoying every minute of it. 'Twas ever thus. 'Takes a lot of beating' as the Ancient Greeks doubtless opined of their latest show... and the long suffering tour donkey.
Whoops! Sorry, it's the effect of Martin Riley's pretty script and glorious direction.
The cast drip with energy, comedic presence and immaculate timing.
Dominic Goodwin uses his tremendous vocal range to give us a near perfect exuberant, manipulative, self-pitying, vainglorious Toad. George Neville's Ratty highlights the rodent's long suffering generosity of spirit. Stephanie Preacher makes a charming Mole, giving the part a depth of character and a little less bumble and fumble than is usually the case.
Neville and Preacher do a certain amount of doubling (and no-one will fail to be tickled by his Jailor and her Bargee... and their court scene... and.... ). Finally, Sarah Kurth is the ubiquitous Deazley the Weasel and a tumble of other characters. Her roles include two horses (Sibelius and Delius) to which she brings not only delightful humour but also a magical equine verisimilitude based, I would guess, on close study of a moving horse's front if not back end (well, nobody's perfect).
There's no vulgarity or references to TV shows, but plenty of slapstick and slo-mo, rubber ducks and lovely music (composed by Daniel Bowater). And there's a handful of songs, one of which, my partner assures me, was being sung after the show with gusto and giggles by four little girls in the ladies' how's-your-father.
Of course there is plenty of audience participation, lucky adults get away with cringing embarrassment and lucky kids are invited on stage. It was fifty years of breathing before I experienced that wall of silver light and the sound of humans on the other side, these kids get it at four. Lucky, lucky, blessed, little people! The cast treat them with great respect, and the kids, as kids can and do, act very well indeed, improvising and miming like the strolling players that, one day, one or two of them might become. And all thanks to an experience that for all of them will remain a bright memory. Great work Ratatat - where were you when I was a kid?
The production as a whole is superbly Brechtian, or rude mechanical, or just plain theatrical. There is humour and satisfaction in wardrobe (well, hat) changes, role changes, species changes, prop exploitation, and improvisation. No attempt to hide anything, or deceive; no fancy sound or lighting, no prop unused, no trick unturned. Brilliant small scale touring, get to the Ratatat website, check out the gruelling tour schedule and book seats. You'll be at the growth point of an ageless theatrical form, and you'll appreciate the experience. Take kids if you can, if not - get seats at the back where you will be relatively safe from Toad's arm-floppity-hops into the audience.
Be prepared to laugh!
Touring until 31st July
Reviewer: Ray Brown