REVIEW: ‘Wind in the Willows’, Library Theatre, The Lowry, to Jan 14th

I THOUGHT everyone knew Kenneth Grahame’s much-loved children’s story “Wind in the Willows”, but perhaps it is not quite as familiar to the children of today.

A.A. Milne, of Winnie the Pooh fame, turned it into a play, Toad of Toad Hall, and then in 1990 Alan Bennett adapted it for the National Theatre. He retained all the delightful animal characters and produced a script with his own inimitable touches of humour and affection.

Sophie Gajewicz is a charmingly naive Mole, Christopher Wright (another favourite of mine) is excellent as the precise, rather bossy Rat, who has a warm heart. Robert Calvert is an amusingly grumpy Badger, plus an hilarious vignette as the Washerwoman, and Paul Barnhill is a wonderfully comic Toad, with a voice that occasionally has tones of Brian Blessed and the most incredible facial expressions.

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The whole cast are first rate and I must give a special “man of the match” award to Jason Furnival as Albert the lugubrious Horse. Two teams of Salford University Performing Arts students alternate to play rabbits, weasels, wildwooders etc. Indeed they play so many parts I was surprised when the entire cast took their bow to discover that 13 people had created such a variety of characters.

However, great as the actors are, enormous credit must go to the production and design team, led by Chris Honer, director, and Judith Croft, designer. The sets are amazing. We get a real sense of the River, the different houses, and an impressive array of devices, trains, boats, cars, coachs, caravans, barges and more.

The costumes give a real sense of each animal without being obtrusive. My two “consultants”, one of whom is going to be in a local production of Wind in the Willows at The Grand, were thrilled with the production. There is plenty to see and enjoy for children from six and upwards. And the grown-ups will love it too.

The Library Theatre will present Manchester’s fifth re:play festival in January and D.H. Lawrence’s “The Daughter-in-Law” in February

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