Theatre review: The Wind in the Willows

Wind in the Willows

Wind in the Willows - Credit: Archant

Think Christmas shows and you invariably think of pantomime - pardon the cliche but Oh Yes You Do.

Wind in the Willows

Wind in the Willows - Credit: Archant

So it is all credit to the Company of Ten, competing as it does with pantos at the Alban Arena and Harpenden Public Halls, that it looks to offer something a bit different every Christmas.

This year’s offering is Alan Bennett’s adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s tale, The Wind in the Willows, complete with river (with water), riverbank and an assortment of animal homes.

It is quite a feat staging such a show at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans so it is not surprising that director Katherine Barry pays tribute to the backstage team who made it all possible.

Not only was there a Romany caravan but also a car and a train on stage which clearly delighted the young and not so young in the audience.

The Wind in the Willows was also an opportunity for veteran members of the Company of Ten to show they have lost none of their skills. Step forward Derek Coe as a pedantic Ratty, Tony Bradburn as the wise old Badger and - my favourite - Dewi Williams as the put-upon Albert the horse.

They were joined by the lively Lianne Weidmann as the ingenue Moley and of course, the star of the whole piece, Andrew Baird as Mr Toad.

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Andrew is a natural for children’s shows - he has that kind of rapport which many actors would give their right arms for. The highlight of the production was when he was sitting alone in his prison cell and responding to comments being thrown out by the audience.

I imagine the Company of Ten chose to stick closely to the Alan Bennett script but it was a shame that more use was not made of his obvious affinity with the audience.

With audience participation at the heart of Christmas pantomime and most children aware of that, introducing it, even in a small way, would have produced plenty of laughs and lifted a show which is quite long for small children and sagged in a couple of places.

But it certainly had its moments with some delightful cameos including Craig Duncombe’s Chief Weasel, Jane Fookes as a bargewoman and Alessia Procaccini as the gaoler’s daughter.

And then of course there were the children with six youngsters divided into two teams for various performances - the Kites and the Eagles - entusiastically taking such roles as rabbits and hedgehogs.

It was good to see the Abbey Theatre nearly full on Tuesday night and there is still time to see the Christmas show. It runs until next Friday, December 30, and for tickets and more information go the box office on 01727 857861 or click here.