The Wind in the Willows, Shaftesbury Arts Centre

ALAN Bennett’s triumphant adaptation of Kenneth Graham’s classic children’s book The Wind in the Willows provides a perfect platform for actors of all ages to show off their skills – and that’s certainly what they’re doing in Shaftesbury this summer.

Barbara Arnold’s cast is full of familiar faces and (mostly) youthful newcomers, all of them bringing colourful life to the riverbank, wild wood and the world beyond.

The familiar tales of Ratty, Mole, Badger and the irrepressible Mr Toad are as timeless as they are loveable. It’s essential that any production manages the anthropomorphism without trite charm, and in this Bar­bara Arnold and her team do a marvellous job.

I’ve never seen Anthony Atwood better than as Moley. You never forget for one moment that this is a MOLE. Alex Chase’s Ratty is all urbane charm and Chris Stotesbury is a perfectly crusty old Bad­ger. The competitive relationship bet­ween the trio is artfully done.

And Tim Trenchard is a splendiferous Toad, full of bombast and self-pity, given to short-term obsessions and flights of fancy.

I was relieved to have the depressive and literary Albert the horse (sadly missing from the recent Julian Fellowes musical) performed in full melancholia by Jack Roper, who also turned in a cutting-edge performance as an urban yuppie Rupert the Motorist.

Jerome Swan is a venal magistrate and a radical train driver, and Mary Ridgewell is a musical bargewoman, with Jennifer Trenchard as the loveable Gaoler’s Daughter.

The rest of the cast – weasels, ferrets, rabbits, otters, stoats and more, put on an energetic display, rushing through the auditorium chasing cars, escaped felons et al.

Congratulations to all who built the sets and the vehicles, on wheels and on water and on tracks.

It’s a great show and it’s on stage on 14th and 15th, and from 19th to 22nd July


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