Monday, 9 January 2017
The Wind in the Willows, ASC, Dec 2016 to Jan 28 2017 ****
Adapted by Glenn Elston from the book by Kenneth Grahame, by Australian Shakespeare Company
Botanical Gardens, Melbourne, until Jan 28, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun in print after Jan 6 (& online, I think.) KH
Could The Wind in the Willows be the longest running show in Melbourne? This summer marks 30 years since Glenn Elston first staged, in our Botanical Gardens, his charming adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 children’s book.
This vivacious outdoor show is a family event not only for the audience, but for the production company too; Otis Elston, Glenn Elston’s son who played Portly Otter when a child, now directs the beguiling production. Somebody must be cloning Elstons!
Otis Elston’s production emphasises the children’s participation in this tale of mateship and adventure, and the enthusiastic kids howl at the clownish slapstick and bad jokes then go on a dangerous adventure with the Rat Pack and Badger Patrol to rescue little, lost Portly the Otter (Amon Prete) from the Wild Wood.
Their participation includes not only a rescue mission but also singing along to ‘Waggle your ears, wiggle your nose,’ joining the chorus of ‘Quack quack quackady-quack’ in the Ducks’ Ditty, and shouting warnings of ‘He’s behind you!’
Paul Morris once again provides music on mandolin and plays the hilariously sneaky, sleazy and villainous Weasel who lays siege to Toad Hall with his weaselly relatives and giant water pistols filled with ‘weasel wee’.
This year, Chris Southall takes over the role of Head Chief Rabbit who acts as host, leading the children in song, playing guitar and joining Morris to entertain the parents with wittily reworded pop songs.
Wearing garish green and pink puffy breeches as Mr. Toad, Oliver Byng is gleefully flamboyant, conceited and entitled, behaving like a spoilt, British upper-class twit obsessed with every new fad from canoeing to motorcars.
Leigh Piper is playful as the sensible river-dwelling Rat who loves ‘messing about in boats’, while Andrew Hondromatidis has a fine singing voice as Otter and shows his versatility by also playing the smug Policeman who loves arresting Toad, and a doddering, old Judge.
Doru Surcel plays the pompous, long-winded Badger whose black and white make-up – according to Weasel – makes him look like a renegade from Kiss or, worse, a Collingwood supporter, while Katherine Pearson plays Mole, the obsessive cleaner, with a blend of sprightliness and timidity.
Willows is a dynamic and captivating show for littlies and biggies on a summer’s day – but hide your picnic hamper to avoid sly Weasel and hungry Head Chief Rabbit nicking your sangers and wine.
By Kate Herbert
Mr Toad - Oliver Byng
Mole - Katherine Pearson
Otter - Andrew John Hondromatidis
Head Chief Rabbit - Chris Southall
Badger - Doru Surcel
Ratty - Leigh Piper
Weasel - Paul Morris
Portly - Amon Prete