Review by Barbara Goulden - Elementary What’s On
Kenneth Graham first wrote Wind in the Willows and tales of life on the riverbank in 1908. His story about Ratty, Moley, Badger and the incorrigible Toad didn't need updating...but Alan Bennett did it anyway, first in 1991 and again in 1996. And thanks to Bennett, the story in this dramatised form can be enjoyed by both children and adults, albeit on different levels. At The Criterion in Earlsdon, the kids may miss some of the new subtleties - like the depressed horse (Alan Fenn) announcing all property is theft - but still scream with laughter at the antics of Nicol Cortese as Toad. And what a brilliant, acrobatic, pistol-packing Toad she makes with the stolid support of Matt Sweatman as the reliable Badger with his stout cudgel, not to mention Summer Marsden as timid Mole and Anne-marie Greene (Rat), who arrives on stage steering a very creditable boat made up of two office swivel chairs. I loved the inventiveness of this production, the giant sun and the green mound that opens up into underground homes.
Among the audience was eight-year-old George Leaf who laughed heartily at the rogue Weasels, led by the lavishly-furred Cathryn Bowler, while his younger sister Olivia, aged seven, adored Toad's antics in his cars and caravans...not to mention his spectacular crashes. These were all the more powerful for being heard off-stage. Both children also loved the sneakiness of Toad, the hunt for him among the audience and, needless to say, the fight scenes.
Bennett was sneaky too, introducing his updated cracks about stately homes, the injustice of inherited wealth and even takeaway meals. Although in the wild wood food on the move has a slightly more realistic connotation.
However, please note, no hedgehogs, otters, rabbits, squirrels, fieldmice, foxes, ferrets and stoats were harmed during this colourful, musical production...well hardly any. The bad news is that the play - which is quite long and so perhaps best suited for seven-years up to grandparents - is already a sell-out.Then again, if like Toad, money is no object and you don't mind the phone bill, it might well be worth pestering the box office for cancellations.
Review by Nick Le Mesurier
The Criterion serves up a welcome alternative to the usual Christmas fayre in their affectionate and clever performance of Alan Bennett’s adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s masterpiece, ‘The Wind in
Some see the story of the four chaps from the English middle-classes simply as a tale of friendship and comic daring-do set in a bucolic England. Others see the recapture of Toad Hall from the rebellious weasels as an act of counter-revolution in which the establishment firmly puts the lower orders in their place. Because it so successfully manages to be both at the same time it deserves its place in the English psyche.
Not that one can easily avoid the satirical elements within the story, and particularly in Bennett’s adaptation. Mole (Summer Marsden) has many a squeaky charm, her character all youthful impulse and enthusiasm. He holds another, albeit unwitting, appeal to the older male characters in the story. Ratty, (Anne-Marie Green) is a slightly donnish character, who is clearly in love with his protégé. And
Badger (Matt Sweatman), while he is the very embodiment of British authority, also leans heavily in
favour of Mole’s innocent charms.
The Criterion’s production features a strongly female cast in a traditionally very male oriented story, which helps it to handle the sexually subversive elements with a certain delicacy,
placing the warmth and the humour of the story centre stage. But they’re nevertheless there, a tongue in the cheek of the Edwardian era it reflects.
While the acting and the production are great throughout, the star role on stage has to be Nicol Cortese’s athletic portrayal of Toad. She is a bundle of hopping energy, bouncing everywhere, now flying high on the thrill of cars and caravans, cleverly outwitting the law with never a thought for the
consequences; now in the depths of despair when imprisoned and made to confront his folly. Not that he does this for long: Toad’s light can never be extinguished, and Nicol Cortese’s comic talent dazzles an already colourful show.
There are too many good supporting actors to mention by name, but I can’t go without acknowledging Alan Fenn’s wonderfully lugubrious Albert the Horse, a Black Country study in sardonic humour, and Helen McGowan’s extraordinary Bargewoman, who was straight out of cockney music hall.
The play is all sold out, which says something for the Criterion’s reputation, their taste in choosing the play and presenting it at the beginning of December, before the usual stuff of Christmas gets into full swing, and the appeal of a story that continues to speak to us at many levels across the barriers of time and class and attitude.