Rain-hit, but far from a washout
The weather gods did not smile on this open-air production in the cloister of Peterborough Cathedral. Just before the performance began around 7pm the rain arrived dead on cue, the temperature dropped, and Wind in the Willows turned into Singing in the Rain!
By 7.30pm it had eased off. But at 7.50pm Mr Badger tempted providence with his line ‘the time has come!’ and the heavens opened again with renewed ferocity. Soaking the actors, the costumes, the set, the props, and the sizeable audience, which took shelter under umbrellas, waterproofs, and anoraks.
Little wonder that when the show finished at 9.15pm the rain-drenched audience enthusiastically applauded the company of six, and the rain-drenched company of six applauded the audience! Even in these daunting conditions the show had been slick, professional, and entertaining. On a sunny evening it would have been an idyllic and delightful re-creation of Kenneth Grahame’s famous tale.
Having said that, this was by no means a straightforward version of the familiar classic. Nor happily was it an attempt to update the story of Mole, Ratty, Toad, and Badger. Rather, James Franklin’s effective script was like a reminiscence of the plot, with some episodes left out but plenty of new material thrown in. All delivered in a style which was part pantomime and part revue.
As Badger, James Franklin himself delivered the amusing narrative that held the play together and pushed the action forward. While James Mitchell revelled in presenting Mr Toad’s successive crazes for boats, caravans, cars, and trains. Bragging and boasting one moment, repenting and begging forgiveness the next, he was at his best disguised as a blowsy pinkgowned washer-woman.
In a departure from tradition, Mr Mole was replaced by Miss Moley in a sweetly sympathetic performance by Victoria Jane decked out in a fetching black frock. For much of the play she was paired with Jonathan Cobb as a very traditional Ratty, complete with striped blazer, boater, and white flannels which were almost like a witty character in themselves. The couple had obviously worked hand-in-glove together in the many songs, gags, and dance routines.
The same was true for a more sinister pair, played by Paul Winterford and Milly Finch, who was also the composer of 12 charming songs. As two wicked weasels they eventually turned Toad Hall into a theatre, another new twist to the original plot. A bit baffling at first, this could be interpreted as a commentary on the show itself, its intense theatricality, and the vagaries of an actor’s life. Not the least of which are outdoor performances during the British summer.