Toad in the hole! The Wind In The Willows is this year’s hotly anticipated Christmas show at The New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Artistic Director, Theresa Heskins has adapted Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s tale for the stage, along with its rich mix of adventure, courage and friendship.
The show follows the story of Mr Toad, his various obsessions and where they lead him. A tale of friendship, strength and determination, a cast of 11 actor-musicians take us from the river bank to the Wild Wood.
We are taken back to a blissful, calm pre-World War countryside with Mole, played by the talented, Alicia McKenzie, waking up to spring and deciding that despite usual spring cleaning duties, to go and explore life above ground.
Mole finds a friend in Ratty, played by Richard Keightley whose first appearance at the New Vic was in this production. He takes her on a boat trip to Toad Hall where the erratic Mr Toad resides.
Mr Toad introduces the animals to his caravan which he is planning to take into the wide world, which is a scary place for characters like Ratty. This theme is clear within the performance throughout, the threat of change and development in a pre-war England. This is particularly clear in a conversation between a pub landlady and Toad, that kids today would rather jet around in their newfangled motorcars than travel by a more traditional horse-drawn carriage.
The amazing thing about the production is, despite the fact that you have to use your imagination, it really feels like you’re watching Mr Toad storming through the streets of the Wide World in his motorcar.
A stand-out performance by Rob Witcomb, playing the reckless owner of Toad Hall, there’s never a dull moment when he’s on stage. Witcomb interacts with the audience and stays in character at all times.
Directed by Peter Leslie Wild, the performance is seamless, despite costume and set changes at impressive speeds.
Lis Evans, costume designer for The Wind In The Willows, has done a fantastic job at creating outfits that speak for the actors wearing them, it’s immediately clear who each person is meant to represent.
There are also multiple costumes for some actors, including Andrew Roberts-Palmer who plays a magistrate, a train driver and a ferret!
All 11 of the actor-musicians give impressive performances, switching between singing, dancing and playing instruments, they create an atmosphere that is hard to forget.
The set designer, Laura Willstead has had a tough job with this show as it is a visual piece with constant scene changes and various elements but she pulled it off and then some. There were even fish swimming around in the river and a boat that bobbed along the water.
This year’s New Vic Christmas performance is not one to miss, I left the theatre with the spirit of Christmas enlightened for me. Whilst the reference to the holidays was only subtle, the use of snow falling and carollers singing made it all come together at the end as a fantastic Christmas performance.
The Wind in the Willows is at the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme from Sat 17 November 2018 – Sat 26 January 2019. For more details call 01782 717962 or visit newvictheatre.org.uk.