The Wind in the Willows

27 May

I’ve never liked The Wind in the Willows.  I always thought it a tedious story about boyish animals in which I have no interest.  I never watched Tales From the Riverbank or those interminable Sunday afternoon short Disney live action films which anthropomorphised mountain lions and zebras; though I did quite enjoy the 1993 remake of The Incredible Journey, thanks to Michael J. Fox and Sally Fields.  But that was it for me as far as animals on film and stage are concerned.

Thus it was with a heavy heart I went to watch Alex play Mole in The Wind in the Willows.  My son was the only reason I considered watching it at all – stupid Alan Bennett with his stupid fake creatures pretending to be human.  

I’m so glad I love my son.  The show was fantastic!

The performance space was an old Woolworths, turned into an arts café – a really cool/funky/epic/whatever-the-hyperbole-is-these-days space.  The furniture is unashamedly second-hand, including the bunk beds in the main seating area and old armchairs for the audience in the staging area.  The tables are covered with blackboard paint and there are pots of chalks available for patrons’ use.  Naturally the Hub and I spent a happy half hour scribbling like infants.

About ten minutes before curtain-up, a scruffy little creature began cleaning up, playing Connect-4 with the child (there was only one in the audience; most children clearly feel the same way about performing pretend-rodents as I do) and fussing about, getting in everyone’s way.  That was our first introduction to Mole.

We were ushered into the performance space and – so civilised! – allowed to take our tea with us.  I should say, the first performance space, because this was promenade theatre: the audience followed the cast around from room to room. At one point we sat on a concrete floor.

The use of space and props was clever.  The river was symbolised by a variety of blue material, waved on a string by two of the cast.  Toad’s prison was a stock trolley which Woolworths must have left behind when they cleared out.  As the boat containing Ratty and Mole meandered along (a different trolley, pushed by a different cast member), it was passed by a boat going in the opposite direction – I know this because I noticed it was about ten inches long when it was given to me by the girl on my left and I passed it to the Hub on my right, and so on along the first row.

We moved from Ratty’s home and Toad Hall to the Wild Wood – a bare, cold room with lighting and imagination the only props – on to Badger’s sett and back to Mole’s home in the café.  Mole and Ratty got into the bunk beds and fell asleep and everyone looked at each other because no one was sure if it was the interval or the end.  I think some people left, believing it was the end of the show, but it was actually the interval.

The child who had been rather apprehensive of Mole at first thought it would be fun to shout ‘Boo!’ in his ear several times.  If Alex doesn’t have a career in acting, he could succeed as one of those street human statues, because he never moved, not even when he heard his own mother scream as she dropped a large cup of very hot tea all over herself, the table (wiping out some creative doodles, a mean comment and a couple of rather lewd suggestions – made by other people, I swear) and the floor.

I think this was Alex’s best performance yet.  He was sweet, funny and stayed in character the whole time.  I know he stayed in character the whole time because I’m his mother, so of course I watched him to the exclusion of all others when he was on stage.  When he wasn’t part of the dialogue he was scratching at fleas, fiddling and reacting to the other actors.  

To be fair, just about the whole cast was excellent, especially Ratty, who had the best lines and made the most of them and the Judge, who was hilarious.  Another was the Gaoler’s Daughter – the inspired casting of a male in that role paid off, particularly at the end, when he kissed the boys.  The Head Weasel was great and had a compelling but deliberately annoying laugh.

This was a well-directed and well-acted production which made perfect use of the unusual space.  But most of all, it was FUN.

20 Responses to “The Wind in the Willows”

  1. slpmartin May 27, 2015 at 16:19 #

    Sounds like a delightful performance…oh and the things parents have to endure for their children…you make parents everywhere proud. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. May 27, 2015 at 17:01 #

    I’m so glad you overcame your scruples and had such a great time. Your review reminded me of when we saw The Taming of the Shrew at the Other Place in Stratford – the Other Place used to be a brewery then, theatre in the round. The props were minimal and the first person to come was a drunken passer-by who spent a pretend penny against the waist-high perimeter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. judyt54 May 27, 2015 at 18:03 #

    I never quite got the humor in Wind in the Willows, and I do know British children’s books are funny in a different way than many American books (some of those escape me, even today), but this version you attended sounds utterly charming.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Laughing Housewife May 28, 2015 at 12:01 #

      You know, reading all of these comments and seeing that everyone seems to agree with me, it’s a wonder TWITW survived.


      • judyt54 May 28, 2015 at 12:49 #

        Possibly because its billed as a ‘classic’ so parents feel they should give it a chance. I find it aggressive and in some instances mean spirited, and as a kid Mole was my favorite because he was the Nice One. Ratty and Toad scared the blazes out of me. In glancing through it as an adult it comes across now as more of a slapstick satire on humans. Still scary, but perhaps more understandable.

        Our very own American Uncle Wiggily is much on the same lines, and I never did fall in love with him, either. He was just as bad, if not worse, and his friends also terrified me, especially the Skillery Skallery Alligator…Its a wonder any of us survived Books Intended for Children

        (Heidi was no fun, either, or Black Beauty)


        • The Laughing Housewife May 28, 2015 at 16:18 #

          Yes, the characters are pretty horrible, though redeemed for recognising the goodness in Mole.

          Not heard of Uncle Wiggily.

          I never liked Black Beauty but I adore Heidi and still read it from time to time. She’s kind of like Mole in the way her sweetness rubs off on most of the people around her.


  4. Grannymar May 27, 2015 at 18:33 #

    That is one talented son you have there Tilly, of course the genes came from his mother!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ron. May 27, 2015 at 22:00 #

    There are very few things that make me think, “Oh I should have made some children.” But reading stuff like this does just that. Be proud.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. sarsm May 28, 2015 at 09:45 #

    I know exactly what you mean about animals being humanised, it’s not my thing either.
    But when you see it theatrically and it’s done well (as this clearly was) it’s a completely different kettle of fish.

    Well done Alex. No wonder you are such a proud mum. It sounds like I’ll have to time my visit to you with one of his performances. A star has been born.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Janie Jones May 28, 2015 at 11:30 #

    I could never get through the Wind and the Willows, in book form or the cartoon. The Spud had it on DVD and I’m not sure if she particularly liked it either. But I can totally see how live action as you describe could make it quite engaging. I think the complete experience sounds like fun indeed.

    It occurs to me now, your Spud has graduated to being Alex in your blog. Yet, he still plays the role of an underground critter. Coincidence? Yeah. For sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Laughing Housewife May 28, 2015 at 11:58 #

      I like the way you think 😉

      I decided to call him by his name when I’m reviewing him; and by his nickname when I’m mocking him.


  8. laurieanichols May 28, 2015 at 13:43 #

    A mother’s love will always point you in the right direction 🙂 The production reminded me of another off Broadway play that I saw and even if the play itself isn’t to your taste, when you just happen to adore one of the actors and his performance is wonderful as well as the other actors and the production itself is creative, it almost erases whatever negative points the actual story had in the first place. I am so glad that you and the Hub got to see another inspired Spud performance, that is so wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Three Well Beings May 28, 2015 at 18:33 #

    I think I would have loved this performance! I have much fonder thoughts about Wind in the Willows than you did going in, but I also like the way the audience interacted by moving from scene to scene. It must be a real thrill to watch your son perform–and you dropped your tea? LOL! If he kept his composure through that, he has a good future in this career! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. beeblu May 30, 2015 at 07:29 #

    So I guess you weren’t a fan of Beatrix Potter either.

    Liked by 1 person

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