Triumph on the river bank

WITH the ten minutes notice in which our leaders specialise, the intrepid alfresco theatre companies of England were told that they could go ahead with outdoor performances.

Illyria was one of the first four to take up the challenge, creating a Covid-secure bubble  in which to tour a delightful, satirical, hilarious three-person retelling of Kenneth Grahame’s immortal tale of The Wind in the Willows. Just three actors – Rachel O’Hare, David Sayers and Callum Stewart – perform all the characters, and even introduce two debutants in Oliver Gray’s adaptation, which he also directed.

A packed but socially-distanced audience of 120 (instead of the usual 400) watched the Sunday matinee in the walled garden of Castle Gardens in Sher­borne, where they were greeted by Alan Munden’s clever and versatile sets including the beautiful blue trees of the wild wood, not a million miles from Barnard Castle. Frantic quick changes, inventive modes of transport and inspired characterisations made sure this was a show for all the family.

The Wind in the Willows is all about home, friendship and belonging, so it is the perfect choice for this peculiar and challenging year. What a relief to sit in the open air, able to smile at your neighbours without the restriction of a mask. To laugh and clap and cheer with other live people around you. All credit to the Illyria company for making it possible. 

It’ll be a long time before the audience forgets Badger (David) in his dressing gown, the judge (Rachel) in her full bottomed wig, or Callum, whose ebullient Toad drove the pace of the show. But perhaps for the older members of the audience, it was Boris Weasel and Dominic Stoat’s perfectly observed performances that will stand out as the best live satire of the year.  And sadly the leader of the Wild Wooders spectacularly failed in his attempts to whack a mole!

Drive on Mr Toad, and take your friends with you around a country longing for the experience of live theatre again. So many thanks from us all.

GP-W