Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

The Wind in the Willows
by Kenneth Grahame   adapted for the stage by Alan Bennett  
directed by Madeleine Forrester & Helen McCallum     

The ADC Theatre, Cambridge, December 2019

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The Wind in the Willows
ADC Theatre - Reviewed by Nick Warburton

When The Wind in the Willows was first published, over a hundred years ago, it was not much liked by its reviewers. The reading public, though, took to it and it’s easy to see why. It celebrates decency and a certain sort of self-effacing Britishness. That Britishness manages to be both irritating and charming at the same time. The working classes are seen as a threat and Toad’s inherited wealth as the natural order of things. (Just think of the amount of grub Ratty and his pals shovel away while the stoats and weasels must get by on scrapings.)

This adaptation succeeded partly because it’s by Alan Bennett and partly because the direction (by Madeleine Forrester and Helen McCallum) was tight and full of appealing detail. It was also presented by a uniformly excellent cast. A generous dash of Bennett’s voice throughout the script maintained the charm and kept the worries about class at arm’s length.

The playing of the ensemble (Dan Aspel, Mandi Cattell, Judy Curry, Mandi Jeffery, Izzy Rees and Liam Sheils) was particularly good. They gave us a variety of people and woodland creatures who spoke and moved well and whose characters were enhanced by precise observation. All of them had their moments. I particularly enjoyed Mandy Jeffery’s manic and corrupt magistrate.
The weasels (Robin Bailes and Ben George) made a highly entertaining double-act and moved with sinuous threat. Albert the lugubrious horse (Barry Brown) was the most Bennett-like of all the characters. Albert is a first cousin of Eeyore and he was performed here with the right degree of miserable relish and a certain deftness of hoof. (There were calls on Friday night for a touch more tap dancing.)

All this was supported by a set that gave us the essential English countryside – a riverbank, a railway/river bridge (through which the caravan fitted most satisfactorily) and hints of a tangled, threatening Wildwood. It made the most of the confined space and we always knew where we were.

Ian Favell’s music successfully created the right mood and the songs were full of animation. There was also excellent work on costume (Olga Romanova and Tracy James with additional special items manufactured by Hannah Curtis) – Badger and Ratty looked especially good, I thought. And Hannah Curtis and Caroline Law did wonders with hair and make-up. Special mention must be made of the train driver’s hat which had a magic life of its own. Nationalise that man!

At the heart of the story are its four superheroes – each of them dauntless when the chips are down, and each possessed of special powers. This particular four were all excellent and made a formidable team. Amiably grumpy Badger (Peter Simmons) was a natural leader; Guy Marshall’s first-rate Senior Service Rat was upright and gentlemanly; warm-hearted Mole (David Burke) found courage in his timidity and took to drag with admirable gusto. Toad … well, Toad brought exuberance, self-importance and the ability to re-invent himself, and all that could be seen in Tom Heald’s lively performance.

You can still find Toads today, of course. What we need is to make sure that there are also Badgers and Rats about to keep them on the straight and narrow. This was a charming production, full of energy and good humour. It brought welcome warmth to a bleak December evening.