What a delight; from entering the wonderful grounds of the Island House, Romsey to be greeted by the cast in full costume welcoming us, I was captivated already. What a fantastic backdrop for this show with the cast and crew coming off and on from the sides; the minute they came into view they were all in character. There was so much to see I was afraid of missing something.
I must mention the children from the beginning, as I thought they were superb; I could hear every word of their diction, they portrayed humour, sadness and concern throughout. They also looked like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves, definitely up and coming thespians. Well done.
The original version of Kenneth Grahame’s much-reproduced children’s classic has charm in buckets, so the challenge of any new adaptation is to find fresh ways to present such well-tilled ground without diluting the magic of the source material.
The plot runs along largely expected lines, with the modernising additions complementing the original production. Chloe Allen was very convincing in her role as a home-loving Mole, lost in the world above ground. Oh My, she did do it justice, I loved her characterisation. Ratty played by Colin Russell also excellent in his portrayal of this fun-loving character who loves playing on the river and has no time for anyone wanting to spoil his life of leisure.
The action unfolds against the unseen encroachment of humans into the woodland with the menacing sounds of clearance off-stage serving to remind us of the realities of greed and destruction. Into this opportunity have stepped the Weasels, led splendidly by Roger Lamb who enjoyed having the other small creatures under his control. These include some brilliantly business-like ferrets and a trio of Stoats whose endearing naivety is a joy to behold. Let’s not forget the birds who were certainly well-rehearsed in their parts and loved every minute they were on stage. The sounds were very realistic; Jane Russell and Tris Harris did an excellent job with both sound and lighting.
Jack West is a suitably rambunctious Toad, enthusiastically leaping from one scheme to another with the inevitable disasters unfolding and portrayed with some splendidly original ideas. Ruby played by Mia Alldred is very mature in her role and has some excellent facial expressions; she is very much in command of the stage.
The theft and crashing of the car, along with the subsequent trial are enjoyable but the scene with the reality TV style washerwomen competition is fabulous. Diane Phippen goes down a storm as Doris the Washerwoman who once “soaked for the stars” but has now fallen on hard times, which typifies this imaginative version of a well-known classic.
Throughout it all, Helen Ford is serene and controlled as Badger, representing virtue and decency and helping to ensure that good triumphs over greed.
This really was a splendid production which kept one captivated from beginning to end. I hope the rest of the week is as kind with the weather as it was last night.