Wind In The Willows
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Thirlestane Castle – with its rolling, green, and sheep-flecked grounds – makes for quite the Arcadian backdrop against which a touring troupe of players might perform. While Chapterhouse Theatre Company’s “The Wind in the Willows” does have a very serviceable and aesthetically-pleasing set of its own, there is no doubt that the production is imbued with no small amount of romance by its wider setting, lit only by the evening sun, and punctuated by picnics, pleasantries, and children rolling about in the grass.
With food digesting, and thermoses at the ready, we turned to the stage as the first performer strode forward and announced that we were all going to have a lovely time, and that if it rained, we would get wet, but at least we were all in it together. This prologue delivered, the actor was joined by the rest of the cast and their instruments, and the show opened with a song. Thus began a pleasant two or so hours, during which the multi-talented – and mostly multi-roled – performers entertained us with the well-loved tale of Mr Toad, his companions, and his conscience.
The difficulty with children’s shows is generally in the pitching, for they need to please both the kids and their parents, and thus too often fall between two stools. In the case of “Willows”, while there are moments when the jokes land a little over the heads of the kids, and the length of the play is perhaps fifteen minutes too long for the attention spans of the youngest in the audience, Chapterhouse largely succeeds in avoiding this pitfall, with the children clearly engrossed in the story, and happily discussing the characters on first-name terms come the interval. The grown-ups, too, were engaged, and although the script and the staging tended to err on the safe side in terms of experimentation, this is perhaps not unwise in a production already so vulnerable to the elements.
Particularly impressive were the clarity of delivery in the al fresco setting, and the upbeat nature of the performance, without the cast resorting to shouting or over-loud sound effects, which I have seen frighten young children time and again at the theatre. Even the “baddies” (Weasel and Stoat), were amiable in their way, and both could be found after the performance with swarms of children around – and, in one case, climbing *on* – them.
This is a talented cast within a solidly professional company, delivering a dependable and quality production. If it is the gorgeous setting that elevates it still further in the audience’s experience, that doesn’t detract one bit from the delight those present took in the evening as a whole. We had a lovely time, it didn’t rain, and – as promised – we were all in it together.
Reviewer : Laura Ingham