After an initial panic when someone had the same seat as me (they'd come a night earlier than was on their ticket), I settled down to hear the orchestra prepare.
There was a large number of children to see this musical adventure but, as is always the case in theatre, the audience age range stretched from under nine to above 90, all eager to hear the songs and see the performance.
The age range of the cast was also expansive, going from about six to 20 years old. You could tell that this was some of the younger children's first time on stage, but they were incredibly professional for their age.
When one of the younger rabbits dropped his rabbit ears, he carried on as normal with the song and choreographed routine, whereas I'm sure at that age I would have just frozen.
The writing and direction was quite ambitious for a children's play, with the chorus of ducks always sitting on the side of the stage to comment on the action. This added an element of self-awareness throughout the entire play, rather than just being an occasional reference to the audience like in pantomime.
This theme was continued when Toad angrily remarked “Do you mind? I’m soliloquizing!” and little additions like this help to keep the adult audience interested.
But of course, the show was an exciting adventure for children too, as the many gurgling laughs and shouts from the audience showed.
The visual element was excellent, with children playing the part of a human boat and the sea in one section, and there must have been more than 50 children as rabbits on stage at once.
|Sam Claflin as Ratty|
The lead characters were also excellent, with Daniel Burgess ruling the stage as Toad of Toad Hall and Sam Claflin was a natural as Ratty. Daisy Wood, who played Mrs Otter as well as the travelling rat, shone in her singing parts and projected them with surprising force considering her small stature.
Special mention must be given to Linette Flaxman, who played Toad's horse Alfreda, as well as the clerk of the court and the promiscuous aunt. While her parts weren't major roles, her excellent comic timing made her the core of the play every time she was on stage.
Were it not for such an all round stellar cast, Linette might have stolen the show, but the consistent talent of the young actors and actresses made every scene a joy to watch.
The musical numbers had been put together by Andrew Fletcher, who was clearly an experienced stage composer and, while complex, suited the performance well and the children didn't seem to miss a note throughout the entire production.
Being the first night, there were a few minor hiccups, but by the second act the cast were clearly getting into the swing of things.
Once again, the Youth Theatre Company have produced an excellent production, capturing the essence of the original story. The show is short enough so that children won't get restless and contains enough slices of intelligent humour that older viewers will be as engrossed as younger ones.
If you're a fan of youth theatre, musicals, or even just Wind In The Willows, this is a must-see for the summer.
The Wind In The Willows is on at the Norwich Theatre Royal and runs until Saturday 6 August, 2005. For more information call 01603 630000.