Review: Wind in the Willows at Ilkley Playhouse

MESSING about in boats, dappled water, woodland walks and creatures, conjure up a quintessentially English atmosphere which is so reminiscent of our countryside and culture, it is impossible not to feel an immediate connection with this charming play.

Alan Bennett’s adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’, which opens at Ilkley Playhouse this week is true to the original story and has all the delightful characters which seem to form part of our inheritance. Directed by Damien O’Keeffe and starting with the lovely Mole, played sympathetically and with great energy by Felicity Woodhouse, we see the relationship develop between the subterranean creature and their water-borne counterpart Ratty. Played by Vani Midgley, this Ratty is sophisticated and intelligent – a stickler for grammar and the voice of common sense, making a perfect foil for Mole’s innocence and naivety.

Bursting on to the stage then is Toad. Toad is a by-word in buffoonery and this grand performance by Alan Young is nothing less! Arrogant, foolish and flighty, Toad is a man of many passions and these are his undoing – poop poop! Thank goodness for the solid and sensible good counsel of Badger, that loyal, if rather forbidding friend who lives deep in the dark woods. Played by John Wise, Badger completes the amicable quartet who encounter adventures and are endlessly pursued and taunted by the wild-wooders, especially the weasels.

There is a large ensemble of other characters – plenty of squirrels, rabbits, otters and hedgehogs make up the scene and they scurry about the stage observing the action and adding to the atmosphere.

There are some cracking cameos: Eoin Howe makes a suitably sardonic Albert – the much-maligned horse; Ian Taylor is an infinitely manipulatable magistrate and Emily Batchelor a very spirited court clerk.

Setting off this production beautifully are stunning illustrations by Inga Moore used as backdrops for each scene and immediately making it obvious where the action is taking place. David Keighley’s set also includes a host of beautifully constructed vehicles – a rowing boat, gypsy caravan, a barge and a car all grace the stage and add a little magic to the piece.

This super production runs until December 14.

by Becky Carter