Creation Theatre Company - The Wind in the Willows
5th December 2014 to 10th January 2015.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Feisty young company
Wind in the Willows, at the North Wall, Oxford, until January 10
Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, adapted and directed by Gari Jones, is this year's festive offering from Creation Theatre Company. The moment you enter the auditorium with the staging sideways on, taking in the balcony, you are struck by the detailed beauty of a twig-strewn set (design, Ryan Dawson Laight). Pitted walls of a faded, disused theatre are transformed into Toad Hall and an open wooden box becomes a river boat while an animated projection conjures up the river bank.
The next thing you notice is the detail that Laight has put into the costumes. Tennis shoes surreally conjure up the long ears of a hare and a dustbin lid morphs into the steering wheel of a car. There's nothing scary for children, so even the battle at Toad Hall that ends the play is played out with comically silly kitchen and bathroom implements as weapons.
The casting is almost designed to send a message to funders about gender parity. Usually acted by a cast of middle-aged men, all the professionals are young, with half the performers women. Ratty (Georgina Strawson) and Mole (Claire Andreadis) are now female creatures, but are obvious representatives of the cosy middle classes. Their animalness is as quaintly portrayed as their counterpoints in Winnie the Pooh or the Narnia stories. They form a feisty little gang with the grouchy, podgy badger (Thomas Richardson, wearing a heavy sack for his belly), the loner from the Wild Wood, and Toad (Will Norris), the arriviste pop star crooning away centre stage to numbers that would embarrass any boy band.
Whether it is Toad dressing up as a colourfully-attired washerwoman as part of his prison break, or the weasels with their urban youth patois, English attitudes to class are ridiculed. This is because, in a framing device, Wind in the Willows is being staged by a group of young people who have broken in to the theatre and are being playful with Grahame's text. It's probably a complication too far for most audiences who will just enjoy the ride into the Wild Wood and along the river bank.
There is a review from Daily Info ("the Riverbank went urban; imagine (if you can) Shoreditch hipster meets Tooting massive... the actors, uniformly good, demonstrated awe-inspiring versatility... an excellent alternative to pre-Christmas panto").