THE Merlin’s Christmas community show has built up a reputation for invention, spectacle and energy, and the eager and talented performers were, like so many others around the country, frustrated and disappointed by last year’s prohibitions.
So there was great delight and anticipation for the 2021 show, a production of Julian Fellowes’ 2016 version of The Wind in the Willows with its music by George Stiles and lyrics by Anthony Drewe. And it’s a great success.
While some theatres are having problems selling advance tickets, the Merlin had a different problem – a total sell out from early in the booking period.
Claudia Pepler again directed, with tight choreography from Abi Holmes, marvellously performed by the entire company.
If I have a criticism of the show it is that the music was sometimes so loud it drowned out the very clever words, but most of the principals managed to make themselves heard.
All the costumes in this delightful production were beautifully thought out, and the makers of hats, gloves, tails and ears had special mentions in the programme.
The focus is, as always, Mr Toad, here played by town mayor and councillor Scott Ward with extravagant aplomb and chaotic charisma. His green hair, tweeds and various driving accouterments did manage to differentiate him from the present resident of Number 10 (or is it 11 now?) but otherwise the similarities were there for all to see.
Patrick Withey (who is also credited with Concept Design) was a charming and lovable Mole, with Matt Dawkins as the reticent Ratty. Tabi Cox not only led the trio of Swallow Singers but also brought Portia the Otter to her perilous encounter with the Wild Wooders.
In this version they are led by Matthew Graham as the Chief Weasel and Daisy Mercedes as Sheryl Stoat. The hedgehogs, Tina Duffin and Steve Waterfield and their “children”, are showstoppers.
Every one of the large cast is, as usual at the Merlin, totally committed to the show. Another triumph for all concerned.