REVIEW: Toad-ally entertaining Wind in the Willows

Toad (Paul Archerr) shows off his latest craze in HADIT's production of The Wind in the Willows.
Toad (Paul Archerr) shows off his latest craze in HADIT's production of The Wind in the Willows.

Hope drama group HADIT’s latest offering was Alan Bennett’s delightful adaptation Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.

With a huge cast, including ten children, and sell-out performances, this was a real community production.

The stage at the Methodist Hall in Hope was transformed into a river bank. Flaps at either side could be opened to reveal Ratty’s and Badger’s snug little homes. Back projections were used effectively to convey the different settings: the Wild Wood, Toad Hall, prison. The imaginative set design was complemented by lighting: one scene in the Wild Wood in winter with the moon shining was particularly evocative.

In the play the countryside is invaded by various vehicles: a caravan, Toad’s car with the egocentric number plate Toad 1, a barge, a train. Well done to the team who designed and constructed these.

Christine Bell and the cast are to be congratulated on the stunning costumes. Kitted out in tweeds in the main, the animals were individually characterised in a flurry of furs, whiskers and fluffy tails - with the weasels attired like thugs in bowlers, striped tops and spats. Stunning costumes were complemented by excellent make-up: Toad had a greenish tinge with an almost Jokerish slash of a mouth; Badger’s stripes were perfectly delineated.

The acting was of a uniformly high standard. Show-off Toad was played with panache as a boisterous and bumptious speed addict (‘Petrol runs in my blood’) by

Paul Archer. This was a driven performance, and I suspect that the actor was totally (poop) pooped by the end of the show. The band of companions, who try to keep the out-of- control amphibian in line, interacted with each other in a lovely way.

Fiona Johnston made for a cute, wide-eyed and wondering Mole. Tim Smallwood was endearing as the polite, poetic rat with a pedantic streak about grammar. Jon

Haddock acted the part of the forbidding yet kind Badger with authority.

Each cast member made the most of their cameo parts. Martin Chapman was a hoot as Albert, the lugubrious horse. Chief Weasel and sidekicks Norman and

Wilfred were a menacing trio. Ali Harrison made a sly and slinky fox, elegant in her hunting gear. Pat Gillatt as the affronted washerwoman, Jo Elliott as the boo-hooing bargewoman and Jane Bramwell as a gypsy were all noteworthy. Philip Taylor commanded the stage as a corrupt judge who eventually lets Toad off his sentence for a spot of kedgeree.

All the animals moved impressively; I particularly like squirrel Pushpita Mukherjee with her little twitches and reactions. The cast sang and danced with aplomb, accompanied on keyboard by Val Leppard. I was very impressed by the performance of the children: they stayed in role throughout and said their lines with expression.

This production was characterised by thoughtful attention to detail. The sound effects added to the atmosphere. The big scenes, such as the trial and the battle at Toad Hall, were staged brilliantly. Director Carolyn Garwes has every right to feel very proud of her achievement.

Alan Bennett is often thought of as ‘cosy’ but this witty adaptation has a political edge. Privileged Toad eventually learns to share his largesse (even though altruism gives him a buzz as it gets him attention) and the Weasels are portrayed as out-and-out capitalists, wanting to convert Toad Hall into executive apartments.

At the end of the production, the cast filled every inch of the stage. They seemed like a family, and it was heart-warming to see how theatre can bring a village together. This play was something special.