Theatre in Wales

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Delightful children’s fiction

The Wind in the Willows

Gwent Young People’s Theatre , Abergavenny Castle , August-02-08
The Wind in the Willows by Gwent Young People’s Theatre Once again the Gwent Young People’s Theatre have excelled themselves with a magnificent production of Alan Bennett’s adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows”, which was commissioned by the National Theatre to exploit its technical facilities to the full.

So it was no mean feat that Georgina Miles’ design and the direction of Gary Meredith and Stephen Badman achieved a fluency and style of their own to keep Bennett’s witty, but sometimes wordy narrative progressing at a pace which held the attention of everyone in the audience, from the youngest toddlers to octogenarians. The rich backdrop of the Castle and some perfectly-scheduled sunshine also served the idyllic staging fully; in all over 600 people gleefully took picnics to the show’s three performances, testament to Grahame and Bennett of course, but also a vote of confidence for G.Y.P.T.’s standards over the years.

Without the NT’s resources, G.Y.P.T. were happy to recall Toad’s caravan and Ratty’s rowing boat from Bettina Reeves’ incarnation for their indoor production of some ten years earlier, and it was also pleasing to see in the audience a cast member or two from that time.

Undaunted by such viewers, the youngsters, as always, acted with conviction and voices able to contend, in the main, with the sounds of the town nearby. The principal roles of Toad, Matthew Watkins; Ratty, Jamie Stokes; Mole, Megan Vaughan and Badger, Rosie Powell were all eloquently convincing characters, but the one who undoubtedly stole the show was Albert the horse, played by Lewis Barber, whose droll, world-weary one-liners kept the adults chuckling.

The “villains” of the Wild Wood, dressed as gangsters, were well led by Bria Dickinson as the Chief Weasel and her side-kick Norman played by David Morgan. These scoundrels plagued the innocent country folk, the rabbits, squirrels, fieldmice and hedgehogs, and plotted to redevelop Toad Hall, but we cheered on the wisdom of Ratty and the tenacity of Badger in saving both these harmless animals and the ever-vain and selfish Toad from the exploitation and torments of the Wide World.

As in all delightful children’s fiction, Good triumphs over Evil at the end, and we all may learn a little something about ourselves, yet it still takes the promise of kedgeree and devilled kidneys for breakfast to sway the Judge (a splendid John Jones) to release Toad from the full weight of the law.

The versatility of the Gwent Young People’s Theatre reached beyond the realms of acting to the spheres of musical and technical prowess. Matthew von Pokorny (keyboard) and Bethan Cox (clarinet) provided superb musical accompaniment to the catchy songs, whilst the Stage Management team handled the frequent setting and costume changes effortlessly, and provided some rather epic sound effects with precision.

The months of rehearsals made the delivery of the lines and the musicality of the National Theatre’s score seem straightforward. It was no wonder that we all strolled out of the castle grounds singing the refrain of the Ducks-a-Dabbling: a good time was had by all!

Reviewed by: Mavis Griffiths

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