by Ilona Cabral
5th December 2017, Sherman Theatre
Step into the Sherman Theatre and enter a magical realm of fun, adventure and a touch of craziness. The Sherman’s latest production “Wind in the Willows” is a feel-good seasonal treat which appeals to first time viewers, as well as those who have a special place for Grahame’s classic novel.
Where others have failed, director Lee Leyford, successfully maintains the spirit of the beloved novel and through an unusual narrative, in which all characters also act as narrators, the play echoes the simple, yet expressive language of the novel.
Leyford and writer Mike Kenny, effectively manage to highlight the significance of nature throughout the show. While the entire play takes place against the dilapidated backdrop of Toad Hall, the watcher feels that they are transported on adventures alongside Mole (Jessica Murrain), Rat (Dominic Rye) and Toad (Keiran Self). Using the revolve, the play employs an inventive range of props, treating a bed as a boat, to display the animals’ escapades downstream, on and off trains and in prison. Changing locations and seasons are also subtly portrayed through skilful staging and lighting.
Most of the cast have multiple roles as dancers, part of the chorus and even as band members; Rye (Rat) provides an especially memorable bagpipe ‘battle cry’ as the ‘Riverbankers’ ‘take back’ Toad Hall. However, these multiple parts do not detract from the actors’ ability to identify with their key roles. Each performer visually and emotionally personifies their animal, from the reckless, rotund Toad, to the sharp-witted, whiskered Rat.
However, it must be said that certain aspects of the performance were disappointing. Though some songs were certainly hummable, it felt that they were thrown in to justify the movement of the story to stage, resulting in breaking up an otherwise smooth plotline. Also, overacting sometimes ventured slightly too close towards pantomime and though “their behind you” or “Oh no they didn’t” cracks may have been audience appropriate, it would not have fit this production.
Overall this play continues the Sherman’s streak of successful Christmas shows. It is visually impressive yet also seasonably moralistic, providing the audience with the heart-warming message of the strength of friendship, family and unity.
The Wind of Willows will be at the Sherman Theatre until 30th December 2017.