Review: Wind In The Willows, adapted by Willis Hall, music & lyrics by Rebecca Applin, Mercury Theatre, Colchester, until August 21

Wind in the Willows, Colchester Mercury. Photos: Darren Bell

Wind in the Willows, Colchester Mercury. Photos: Darren Bell - Credit: Archant

One of the great additions to the region’s theatrical life has been the advent of the Colchester Mercury’s summer family production. This is the perfect way to introduce youngsters to the joys of theatre but this isn’t a kids show – it’s a genuine family-friendly play which has plenty to offer audiences of all ages.

Wind in the Willows, Colchester Mercury. Photos: Darren Bell

Wind in the Willows, Colchester Mercury. Photos: Darren Bell - Credit: Archant

Director Matthew Cullum has brought the same verve and inventiveness that infused last year’s production of James and the Giant Peach, to this Edwardian classic by Kenneth Grahame. Cullum and his multi-talented cast have created an infectiously joyous theatrical experience which sends you home with a bounce in your step and a wide grin on your face.

It’s a wildly imaginative production which focuses on the nature of home and friendship as Toad and his pals Badger, Ratty and Mole try and win Toad Hall back from the villainous Wild Wooder. The action is centred on the riverbank where all sorts of urban detritus has been washed up by the river current.

The animals, aided by a musical group of eccentric rabbits, use broken umbrellas, shopping trollies, suitcases, paddles even an old-fashioned hobby horse to create the props to tell their story. The action takes place on what looks like a wooden raft backed by sections of scaffolding draped with strings of coloured lights and shrouded with mist. The whole stage is then given an other-worldly atmosphere thanks to some wonderfully moody lighting.

The characters and musicians clamber all over the scaffolding, scamper across the stage and and pop in and out of multiple trap doors in the stage to bring the outrageous take of Toad to life but for all the technical inventiveness on display, the real heart of the production lies with an amazing cast which demonstrates real strength in depth.

Mercury favourite Dale Superville revels in making his Toad charming and engaging but at the same-time he shows him to be outrageously pompous and self-centred. His friends Badger (Kate Adams), Ratty (Pete Ashmore) and Mole (Sam Pay) are splendidly well-realised characters, this is a great achievement in the face of such scene-stealing showmanship.

Inspite of all the larger-than-life antics of Toad, this is very much an ensemble show and everyone is given a chance to shine including the brilliant chorus of multi-tasking rabbits who take on a variety of supporting roles. Standouts include Louisa Beadel’s resourceful, if slightly potty, maid Enid and Christopher Hogben’s malevolent Wild-Wooder.

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Matthew Cullum deserves huge praise for taking an existing adaptation of an accepted classic and completely transforming it into a dazzlingly inventive showcase of contemporary musical theatre. It’s a must see production. Don’t wait for a rainy-day, go and see it now.

Andrew Clarke

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