The Wind in the Willows at the Polka Theatre, Wimbledon ~ reviewed by Little Surrey's Emma Ward
PUBLISHED: 11:40 04 December 2012 | UPDATED: 22:27 20 February 2013
The theatres of Surrey and beyond are awash with pantomimes at this time of year, however, those seeking something a bit different are well catered for at Wimbledon's Polka Theatre
Photos: Robert Workman
The theatres of Surrey and beyond are awash with pantomimes at this time of year, however, those seeking something a bit different are well catered for at Wimbledon's Polka Theatre.
Toby Hulse's adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's classic work, The Wind in the Willows is a charmingly funny play that cannot fail to please. Directed by Jonathan Lloyd, it is set on a cleverly constructed riverbank, split into three levels by designer, Liz Cooke. The plot is interspersed with songs composed for the production by Martin Ward and sung in pleasing harmony by the cast.
The characters are delightful too. Ailsa Joy presents an endearingly shy and naive Mole, who slowly grows in confidence to become an unlikely hero by the end. Ratty, played by Phil Yarrow, is fiercely loyal to his beloved riverbank and rowing boat, complete with oversized teaspoon oars, yet increasingly curious about the wider world.
Robert Saunders' Toad seems to channel Matt Lucas at times with his larger-than-life stage presence. His madcap motor car outing (poop, poop!), complete with silent film projection, that ends Act One is a highlight of the show. Counterbalancing Toad's bombastic enthusiasm is the irascible, yet kindly Badger, played by Nick Ash. Badger repeatedly speaks of his dislike of company, yet turns out to be exactly the kind of friend you would want to have by your side in a crisis.
Finally, the quartet is joined by Kanga Tanikye-Buah and Arran Glass, who are kept busy playing other woodland creatures and providing delightful cameos, strong singing and unobtrusive set and prop changes. They also make wonderfully evil weasels and stoats in the fight scene in Act Two.
A central theme of Hulse's adaptation is the animals' desire to become 'ever more human', which starts to alter the way things should be, causing an eerie stirring in the willows. Slowly, they realise their folly - Ratty gives up his rowing boat; Toad his cars and they return to their innocent woodland lives, only to be rewarded at the end by snowfall and a feeling of gentle contentment that spills out wholeheartedly into the audience.
- The Wind in the Willows @ Polka Theatre, until February 16, 2013