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The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows
Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney
Based on book by Kenneth Grahame
The Australian Shakespeare Company
January 5-27, 2019

Welcome to ASC’s 16th outdoor annual production of Kenneth Graham’s children’s classic, The Wind in the Willows.

Initially, the assembled children-with-parents are inducted into their role as rabbits – waggling ears and twitching noses – by a charmingly elegant Chief Rabbit, and what they probably suspect, is a charismatic but tricky Weasel. The day is already excruciatingly make-up-meltingly hot, but Rabbit and Weasel wield their guitars with verve.

One by one the characters are introduced to their young audience – boat-loving Ratty, indecisive Mole, bossy Badger, anxious surfer-parent Otter, and his dear but adventurous child, Portly – via songs, funny antics and a lovely side-stepping dance routine by Chief Rabbit and Weasel. Amid all this cavorting, we are given cause for concern by the animals’ fear of the Wild Wood (and weasels) as they warn the naturally curious Portly of its dangers.

Suspense is generated by the mention of the outrageous Mr Toad, and we all up rugs and baskets and travel to a grassy hillside to visit Toad Hall. Once resettled, we watch as the impressive vanity of an elastic-limbed Toady leads to conflict with a heavy-handed, mustachioed policeman. At this point the news comes that Portly has disappeared and eager children are marshalled off to search for him, providing a good opportunity for Chief Rabbit to be witty at the remaining parents’ expense and for some political jokes from the excellent Badger.

Meanwhile, Toad’s imprisonment results in the triumph of the tricky Weasel, who is supported by a crew of unlikely looking stuffed toys, as he takes over Toad Hall. A battle ensues under the leadership of Badger, with much chaos and little headway until the now found Otter’s child is able to breach the Hall’s defences and save the day for his elders.

Cast and audience gather for a group photo at the end of the performance. Photo: Catherine Skipper
Cast and audience gather for a group photo at the end of the performance. Photo: Catherine Skipper

All ends well – especially well – with the talented and ingeniously costumed actors posing for group photographs with their enthusiastic audience. The combination of excellent casting, consistent opportunities for the actors’ interaction with the young audience, and maintenance of an up-beat tempo – in this case, despite the crushing heat – make this year’s performance a must for the family (or just grown-ups) this summer.

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theatre@ssh.com.au

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