Kenneth Grahame’s enduring tale of Mole, Ratty, Badger, Mr Toad, and their many friends, comes to the Abbey Theatre this Christmas. This stage version of The Wind in the Willows, by Alan Bennett, with additional lyrics and music by Jeremy Sams, caused a popular sensation when it first appeared at The National Theatre in 1990. It has since become a classic in its own right.
Packed with comedy and songs, and with added incidental music by Emma Barry, this fast-moving show is fun for all the family. It tells the tale of the shy young Mole who is introduced to the joys of the riverbank by the enthusiastic Ratty. He then meets the ebulliant and reckless Mr. Toad, and is propelled into a series of adventures, including fast cars and a prison break, ending with an exciting battle to take back Toad Hall.
First published in 1908, The Wind in the Willows was originally a bedtime story for Grahame’s young son, Alastair, and based on his childhood memories of growing up close to the River Thames, at Cookham Dean, Berkshire. He and his three siblings were allowed to run wild, and developed a life long love of the countryside. Eventually he returned there with his own family, and immediately started work on The Wind in the Willows.
Derek Coe, who plays Ratty, has his own fond childhood memories of holidays spent with his grandfather in Shotley Bridge, Durham. “We fished for minnows, collected frog spawn, and generally enjoyed messing about on the riverbank. He was in his seventies then, and much to my surprise, I’ve now reached that age and am playing Ratty, showing an eager young Mole the delights of the riverbank.”
Judy Jacques, who plays the washerwoman, and various small animals, still cherishes her copy of The Wind in the Willows, “Complete with my attempts to embellish the illustrations with watercolours. Did illustrations ever fit a story so perfectly? Plus, much of the language is adult. It doesn’t talk down to children, and neither does Alan Bennett’s superb script.”
For Andrew Baird and Lianne Weidmann, who play Mr. Toad and Mole respectively, as children the book was a little daunting. Lianne’s perception of the story was turned on its head when she saw a production of the Bennett version in 2015. “The script captured the spirit of the time brilliantly, with Alan Bennett’s humour as a bonus.” Andrew agrees wholeheartedly. “ He has done a great job of making it appeal to everyone aged from six to a hundred. I thought it would be a good children’s play, but it’s actually a great family one.”
Director, Katherine Barry confirms this. “The show has a broad appeal, and directing it has been a joy from start to finish. It has been very rewarding working with a cast of both adults and children, though sometimes you can forget which is which. I got the distinct impression that the adults were having just as much fun as the youngsters during rehearsals, embracing their inner animals!”
Performances take place on the Abbey Theatre Main Stage on Friday 16th December at 7.30pm; Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th December at 2.30pm and 5.30pm; Tuesday 20th to Thursday 22nd December at 7.30pm; Tuesday 27th December at 2.30pm and 5.30pm; and Wednesday 28th to Friday 30th December at 7.30pm. To book tickets go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 01727 857861.