By David Tingley
Wakehurst Place, in Ardingly, will play host to The Australian Shakespeare Company later this month when The Wind in the Willows opens its run on 31st August. I was lucky enough to go along for a sneak preview at Kew Gardens earlier in the summer.
I have to say, I was impressed. I was impressed with the whole thing, actually.
From a technical point of view all the actors had microphones – so we never had a problem hearing the dialogue. But, more than that - and something I wasn’t expecting, all of them played an instrument of some kind during the performance and these came over the mic or had a pick-up of their own in the case of the guitars.
I arrived to sit on the grass (note to self, take something to sit on, we didn’t and got slightly damp bottoms!) with two of my girls and awaited the action. As soon as Head Chief Rabbit, played by musical director Zachary Cooke, stumbled across the audience on his walk for adventure – we were taken in to a new world.
Zachary’s enthusiasm was infectious and I found myself quickly entering the spirit of piece and waving my hands on my head to mimic a bunny rabbit on cue! And here is a good point to note; you all have to take part! In truth my girls (at 10 and 12) were a little too cool for the ‘rub your nose like a bunny’ gesticulations and singing along with the songs, but I definitely saw a few laughs and smirks on their faces as the comedy-laden script unfolded. We thought aged eight would be a good top end for the smaller visitors. For adults, on the other hand, well, there was plenty to keep me entertained and amused during the 90 minute or so performance.
The musical numbers were very well done indeed. Tamlyn Henderson played the character of Weasel, and when he added his guitar and vocals to Zachary’s it worked wonderfully. At one point, in the second act, there is a break-out jam session with these two characters as they played versions of Ruler (Lorde) and Up All Night (Daft Punk) the likes of which you’ve never heard before! I don’t think I stopped smiling throughout this interlude!
The story was easy to follow, of course, with each new cast member bringing in a new energy to the piece when they were introduced. I think, for my money, I particularly enjoyed the dryness of Badger (played by Chris Killik) but, I suspect, a five year old may not agree!
The Wind in the Willows begins its run on Thursday 31st August and plays at Wakehurst Place until Sunday 3rd September.