Review - The Wind in the Willows at Royal and Derngate, Northampton.

The Wind in the Willows
The Wind in the Willows
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I am not an actor but even I can imagine there being no more chilling thought than the idea of having to go on stage and perform as a lead in a huge production with just two days of rehearsal.

Yet that is exactly what the brave actor Gavin Spokes has done in taking on the part of Toad in the Royal & Derngate’s big Christmas show, The Wind In The Willows.

Filling in for the very unfortunate Jack Edwards (who took a tumble down some stairs and injured his leg making him insufficiently springy for the part of Toad), Gavin bravely hopped into the play and I can confess I was hugely impressed by his efforts.

In the true style of director Gary Sefton, The Wind In The Willows is an action-packed, festive treat to the eye filled with ambitious set devices, songs, quirky props and plenty of physical humour.

Yes there were a couple of very minor blips on the part of Gavin, but for someone who, as it sounds, has helped save the show, he did remarkably well in wittily portraying a loud, bombastic, larger-than-life character such as Toad.

Like many other people I had always been familiar with The Wind In The Willows but strangely never really appreciated the story.

The plot is a simple one. Mole and Ratty are riverbank pals with an affection for bobbing about in boats and enjoying lavish picnics in the peace and quiet. Their friend Toad is completely the opposite, always looking for his next adventure, usually involving the latest technology; in this case a motorcar.

Toady’s fascination for the ‘poop poop’ whir and stir of the motorcar inevitably lands him in hot water but luckily Ratty, Mole and Badger are there to lend him a helping hand.

The show is something that leaves both adults and children laughing and it is packed full of funny theatrical moments, not least Toad’s dramatic Darth Vader style entrance onto the stage.

There are also lots of staging devices such as bubbles, fake snow and the use of the auditorium by the actors as part of the set which are enough to keep audience members on their toes as to exactly what is going to happen next.

The show was filled with wonderful performances, including the incredibly acrobatic Stuart Angell, who took on roles as the Chief Weasel, Albert and the Policeman and the very funny Jennie Dale who also had multiple parts and probably got the biggest laughs for her scenes as the judge and the cockney barge woman. Christopher Harper also played a wonderful Ratty alongside Katy Phipps’ very sweet interpretation of Mole.

A beautifully performed and directed version of Kenneth Grahame’s much-loved tale, this is well worth a visit.

The Wind In The Willows will run until January 5. For tickets visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk or call the box office on 01604 624811.