‘The Wind in the Willows’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by March 20, 2016

The ‘Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Graeme – with added music and songs. This two and a quarter hour, fast moving show was performed by the students, at 7.30 pm in the Swan Christian College Theatre for several nights, I caught the end of the season on Saturday 19th March.

 

The very comfortable, professional quality, 300-seat theatre at Swan Christian College in the Swan Valley, was designed ‘in the round’. The stage has a large open floor space in front, on which was constructed a most realistic, steel framed jetty (Gary Blattman, Joshua Newland). The space around the jetty being the river.

On the stage were two, 2m x 4metre muslin, backdrop panels, onto which watercolour scenes (Peter Saxon) – in the style of Beatrix Potter – were back-projected. These artworks were outstanding.

 

      It is early morning and Mr Mole (Sharni Andersson, alternating with Flynn Voight) is sitting near the river, when Rat (Kelly Polla, alternating with Madison Robinson) rows up the river in his boat and introduces himself. The two are enjoying the day when Otter (Welland Joyce) and his child, Little Portly (Jasmin Hanlon) appear, they are looking for food.

      After a picnic, the group are startled by the noise of a loud car engine. The driver is the very rich, arrogant drama queen, Mr Toad (Jarrett Walton, alternating with Jazzi Hatch), the owner of Toad Hall – the largest building in the area.

       Badger (John Saxon) arrives and talks to the group, he explains how Mr Toad has inherited the money and is behaving most irresponsibly with the cash. Badger warns Rat and Mole never to go into the woods as there are gangs of ruffians wandering around. When Badger has gone, Mole foolishly sets off into the forest. Very soon, Mole is attacked by a group of Weasels (Holly King, Sophie McHutchison, Tiana Langley, Ella George, Oscar Alfaro), led by the Chief of the Weasels (Jolyon Joyce) who threatens Mole, saying a nasty accident will happen if goes in the woods again.

       Mr Toad has not learnt his lesson and immediately buys another car, only to crash this too. The Bailiff (Olivia D’Angelo) arrests him and Mr Toad appears before the Judge (Charlotte Lyne) who sends him to prison for 20 years. Luckily, the jailer’s daughter (Clancy Mercer) and the barge woman (Antonia Nicholai) help the prisoner escape. He heads off home, not knowing that the Hall has been taken over by squatters – the Weasels and the Ferrets.

      A car comes along, and Mr Toad manages to talk the poor innocent women (Ashlyn Templeton, Briana Prince-Wright) into letting him drive. Thanks to Badger’s cunning plan, Mr Toad gets his Hall back, and even has a weasel (Sophie McAlpine) and the ferret Captains (Lara Marais, Karlien Van Wyk) as servants.

 

The musical trio proved that when it comes to live music, less can be better. The melodic incidental soft music, reminiscent of Peer Gynt, was composed by the musical director, conductor and keyboard player, Karl Dietrich. His trio also included Anne Wheat on flute, and violinist, Kiara Burke; the music ‘accompanied’ the singers rather than ‘ruled’. This allowed the beautiful singing of the woodland animal chorus (Lauryn Britton, Monika Portiouis, Gracie Butler, Emilie Tivel, Jessica Bognalbal, Mackenzie Clarke, Caitlyn Atwill), aged 6 – 12 to shine. The singers at times sang in madrigal style, but always with powerful and confident vocals.

Producer Celeste Underhill and Director Simon James were well focused and have demanded the best from their cast – and they got it. Real performances, perfectly rehearsed, not simply like those embarrassing shows that only the doting Grandmothers appreciate.

The sound design (Joshua Pitman), which was operated by David Berry, had several special touches – such as the sound effect of Mole falling in the water – proving everyone had put in a great deal of thought and not simply hoping that the minimum would work.

The lighting rig has a limited number of the older style of lamps, and yet Jane Lee’s design and operation was superb. The creepy woods, bright summer light, blue winter glow and evening warmth were all beautifully created.

Jonathan Myers’ stage management was exceptionally well planned; the youngsters, who had quite a lot of lifting to carry out, simply moved in and seconds later the task was completed – many professionals could learn from these kids.

Kathryn Walton had the mammoth task of organising the costumes and props. There were the dark ragged clothes of the woodland creatures, through to the wonderfully garish outfit of Mr Toad. The effect of the woodland trees at night was created by the youngsters swaying 2 metre lengths of doweling, and how well it worked! Ingenious.

The face painting by Nicole Tonkin and Cherie Tucker, was stunning. Photos by Jaimee Magee.

There was some real talent in this cast, Jarrett Walton being outstanding. He sang, tap danced and then milked the audience for applause. ALL of the leads were top notch – terrific. Even at the curtain call, each group came on stage speedily, bowed together – a miracle – and immediately left, with the next group to come on in place. Dozens of actors in 15 seconds. Even the Primary School kids knew exactly how long to bow and where to leave. Some really advanced stage skills were on show.

Irrespective of age, Community Theatre at its best.