Thanks to the Sherman for inviting us along
Fair play to Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre; they create exceptional children’s theatre. The Wind In The Willows is this year’s festive offering for older children, continuing their annual tradition of adapting classic children’s books for the stage. We saw it at last night’s press night and it’s a lovable and entertaining show that really does the classic tale justice.
In fact, mid-way through the second act I looked around at the faces surrounding me. Every single one of them – adults and children of all ages – was smiling and utterly engrossed in the story unfolding before them.
The Wind In The Willows follows a group of riverbank animals including Mole, Rat, Badger and, in particular, the exploits of Toad, a reckless amphibian with a penchant for stealing motorcars. Written by Mike Kenny and directed by Lee Lyford this new stage production is endearing and humorous – and all five of us thoroughly enjoyed it.
I had wondered whether 3¾ -year-old Littlest would be too young. He’s well below the age guidance of 7+ and the show began at his usual bedtime. But he loves theatre and he impressed us by sitting attentively throughout and really following the action on the stage.
Miss E, now 8, and 6¼-year-old Little Man absolutely loved it. They’re familiar with the book because we have a beautifully illustrated abridged version – but I think they would have enjoyed it just as much even if they’d had no prior knowledge.
They were laughing out loud at several points, most notably at some of the supporting cast of animals. The all-singing, all-dancing ducks clad in yellow rain macs and wellies were hilarious as were the two young hedgehogs who ended up at Badger’s house after getting lost on the way from school.
My children also loved Toad’s impersonation of a washer woman complete with over-the-top Welsh accent. This is a disguise he adopts following the gaoler’s daughter’s plan to bust him out of prison, where he’s been sentenced for driving a stolen car.
Toad is perfectly played by Keiron Self (above). He’s becoming something of a Sherman Christmas regular having starred in last year’s The Borrowers as well as The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and Arabian Nights. He successfully conveys all facets of Toad’s personality – his eccentricity and self-centredness, his thrill-seeking recklessness and the way he annoys his friends; but also his warmer side. Despite his criminal antics we can’t help but route for him when he’s on the run from the law.
Jessica Murrain is a very likeable Mole, Zara Ramm plays wisely Badger while Dominic Rye is Rat. I loved how all three got the animal mannerisms spot on. Rebecca Killick Hannah McPake and Emma Cooney – one of the Sherman’s apprentice actors – make up the rest of the cast, playing a range of characters.
The play is faithful to the book, condensing the action into two hours including an interval. Some of the staging of the more adventurous elements of the tale are very clever indeed. For example, the slow-motion episode when a car crashes into Toad’s horse-drawn caravan and the friends and their possessions are flung all over the stage. The fans blowing leaves and hay into the faces of Toad and the two women whose car he persuades them to let him drive. Or the remote control cars racing across the stage to represent Toad being pursued by the police. Little Man thought this was brilliant.
The performances are incredibly strong – but Simon Kenny’s impressive set adds so much to the show As soon as we enter the auditorium we see the two-tiered insides of Toad Hall – an obviously once-resplendent manor now neglected, with broken windows, holes in the roof and weeds growing up the walls and the stairs. A rotating disk in the centre of the stage is cleverly used to help boats and various other vehicles manoeuvre around; while the characters enter and exit through beautiful green doors rather than the usual curtain exits.
As has become custom at the Sherman, there are musicians on stage throughout the show, playing Conor Mitchell’s original score. Musical director Gareth Wyn Griffiths plays the piano while the rest of the cast dip in and out with various instruments, as well as singing. The aforementioned musical number involving the ducks was one of my favourites; a well-choreographed number with a sound inspired by the big musicals.
I honestly can’t think of a bad word to say about the production. It’s great family entertainment. From start to finish it was enchanting, captivating, funny and all manner of other lovely words. We loved it and wouldn’t hesitate to go back and watch it all over again. Tickets are selling fast with limited availability already on some days; book fast to avoid disappointment.
The Wind In The Willows opened at the Sherman Theatre on 1st December and runs until 30th December. Tickets cost between £16 and £26. Book online or call the box office on 029 2064 6900.
Younger children may also like The Magic Porridge Pot / Hud Y Crochan Uwd also playing until 30th December. Read our review here.