“Tuh – Oh – Ah – Duh”, shouted our five-year-old during spelling practice this weekend. “TOAD! Like Mr Toad! Poop Poop!”
Clearly her visit to Royal & Derngate to watch Wind in the Willows had quite an effect. Every family discussion for the past few days has involved a reference to action from the show, including “the weasels were naughty” or “Dad wears a hat like Ratty.”
Royal & Derngate has two Christmas shows on offer each year, the traditional sparkly, generic panto in Derngate (Sleeping Beauty) and in the Royal, the Wind in the Willows, a lovingly hand-made, in-house production based on the book by Kenneth Grahame.
Before the show even started there was added drama – the original Mr Toad, Jack Edwards, had fallen down some stairs and literally broken a limb before the opening night.
Substitute Mr Toad, Gavin Spokes, had just two days to rehearse the leading amphibian role, including all lines, songs, moves, dances and props in a very physical show. But he did so (sorry Jack), with aplomb.
It might seem odd to start by commending the set and staging, but the work done by designer Sara Perks and her team really steals the show. The Royal has a small stage but the stage design with rotating turntable had grassy hillocks rolling past the riverbanks, layers and layers of Toad Hall, the Wild Wood, the Prison and Courtroom, all moving incredibly quickly and dynamically, with the cast jumping, rolling, diving and climbing over staging and props throughout. It was exhausting just watching them. And then there were the bubbles, and the real snow falling on the audience too, and the clever costumes . . . all crafted by the Royal’s talented team.
The ensemble acting as caravans, cars and horses with impeccable comedic timing only added to the action.
Ratty (Christopher Harper) and Mole (Katy Phipps) are an endearing pair from the off, trying to keep the rambunctious and spoiled Toad from harming himself and those around him as he races from one fad to another.
His downfall comes in the shape of a motorcar, cleverly ‘played’ using members of the ensemble making funny noises.
Outstanding performances from all the leads, and the children’s cast (parents, acting as a daily taxi service, I feel your pain) plus a showstealer from Jennie Dale as the Judge – what a voice!
Wind in the Willows, thanks to Gary Sefton’s direction, is a must-see, bringing a fusty children’s classic to life for a new generation. Tickets are available for shows until the run ends on January 5.
For tickets call the Box Office on 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk
A direct hit for Wind in The Willows. Next year’s show has already been announced: it’s Merlin!