Rain-hit, but far from a washout

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - REVIEW - Re­view: JOE CON­WAY

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.

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