Review: The Wind In The Willows, presented by Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, Wednesday 25th July–Saturday 4th August

By - Thursday 2nd August, 2018

A happy summer highlight with an undertone of darkness

Photo by Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, used with permission.

Not so much ‘wind in the willows’ as ‘a howling gale on the golf course’ – the long, hot spell of weather had broken the previous day, and Saturday 28th July was blowy. This presented Theatre Workshop Coulsdon with a serious meteorological challenge as the trees above the actors’ heads tossed noisily to and fro in the wind. Added to this, a technical hitch meant that projection of sound in the opening scenes was not what it needed to be and a few early lines were almost inaudible. As Moley might have said: “Bother those microphones!”.

That the players carried on undistracted, overcame all difficulties (credit to the problem-solving team behind the scenes who soon improved the sound) and delivered a marvellous evening’s entertainment is greatly to their credit.

Photo by Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, used with permission.

The company stages an open air play each year in a natural oasis in the grounds of Coulsdon Manor Hotel. It’s the perfect spot – the clump of trees around a clearing is cool on a hot day, sheltered from all but the most torrential downpour, and is only a few minutes’ stroll through the woods from the hotel car park. The play has become a Croydon summer highlight and once again this year it hits the spot.

Moley, Ratty, Badger and Toad.
Photo by Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, used with permission.

The story of The Wind In The Willows is of course a delight. Its central characters are played with charm and verve: I loved them all, but developed a particularly soft spot for Anya Destiney as the Mole. The weasels, ferrets and stoats under the leadership of Chief Weasel Bruce Montgomery are suitably villainous, Mr Badger (Mike Brown) formidable, Ratty (Joe Wilson) quizzical, the Toad (Richard Lloyd) quite splendid, and Simeon Dawes needs just a pair of ears on his hat to own the role of Albert the barge-pulling horse. Younger members of the company have fun as woodland animals, and the props (in particular Toad’s car and caravan) are superb.

The play – like the book on which it is based – is gently appealing without being twee. That’s because at times it breathes a whisper of chill. A baby rabbit is carried off by the weasels, to the distress of her mother. The class system cares nothing for justice, and as a gentleman of means Toad brings the action to a close by bribing a pardon for his crimes from the judge. Albert the barge-horse – without doubt a founder member of the barge horse Trades Union – would, had he heard about this, have put in a world-weary word.

The Wind In The Willows is a play about England – on the surface, a comforting, rural vision of an England which for many was never a reality at all, but beneath is an undertow of darkness. Our country could scarcely be further from comfort than it is right now. Perhaps that was why, in a beautiful green place in the evening, nostalgia for gentle vanished certainties and timeless peace stole over us all as we watched. The play’s wistful closing song will be remembered by the watching children when their long summer holiday ends and they feel, for the very first time in their lives, the sorrow of time passing and the pain of lost, uncapturable joy.

But the joy’s not over yet, and you can still see the play; it’s on until Saturday 4th August. To book tickets for this lovely show, click here.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

More Posts - LinkedIn

  • Andrew Kennedy