Wednesday, 31 July 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Wind In The Willows - Pennington Flash Country Park, Leigh. Greater Manchester.

I must confess that I’ve never been a fan of the story of The Wind In The Willows. Perhaps we should blame the 1980's children’s animation series which I found quite creepy but this production is a lovely piece of storytelling theatre which is wholly immersive and engaging for all the family. It is an enchanting story which follows the adventures of four woodland creatures; Toad, Ratty, Badger and Mole as they travel into the ‘Wild Woods’ and along the ‘Riverbank’, to try to escape the mean and wretched weasels with their evil ways. It is a typical feel-good ‘happily ever after’ story, with plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep the audience highly entertained with movement, song and a great story.

Director Will Travis is a working actor, with an array of credits in the television and theatre industry; including; This Is England, Coronation Street and Where The Heart Is. He has also worked on the professional stages of HOME, Oldham Coliseum, Northern Stage and Nottingham Playhouse. However, Travis doesn’t keep his fame to himself. Locally, he is more of a dramaturge and has built up a great reputation for bringing theatre to the people of Leigh in whatever form, from his acting school for youths ‘A Will And A Way’ to his professional productions with Stolen Thread Productions CIC, both hosted in his own The Way Theatre in Atherton. This is the second year Travis has directed The Wind In The Willows at Pennington Flash Country Park and the second time I watched the performance, so it was great to see how the play had evolved over the two runs.

As with any open-air theatre performance, the great British weather plays a starring role. Last year, we basked in the sunshine, sipping prosecco on picnic blankets and this year we sat on our soggy camping chairs, with fat raindrops dripping down our waterproofs. Did it impact the production? I think not. The feeling you get when watching any decent open air production still has a sense of camaraderie between audience and performers, and the weather didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits.

This production is a very brave piece of promenade theatre, with scenes taking place in a number of different locations throughout the park, so there’s plenty of walking involved in the evening’s entertainment. Set against the backdrop of the stunning Flash lake, woodland and park, Travis has chosen some perfect locations for his story of wildlife characters and this serves to make the production all the more engaging for the audience of adults and children alike.

The four main actors playing; Ratty (Martin Green), Badger (Joe Slack), Mole (Nathan Morris) and Toad (Will Travis), had brilliant stage presence which had the audience captivated throughout. My favourite character was Mole, played with excellent comic timing by Nathan Morris, whose humorous quips kept grown-ups in the audience entertained, whilst his lively characterisation which fully embodied the physical mannerisms of a mole proved highly entertaining for the younger audience members! It would be remiss of me not to mention Charlotte Vinsen’s fabulous costume design also. The costumes were so colourful and vibrant against the backdrop of natural scenery and represented the personality of each character, from the upper class Toad in his tweed suit, to the aged Badger with his war medals on show. The costumes were beautiful and a real asset to the production.

Masks, provided by Foolsgold Theatre Company were also brilliantly used to characterise the woodland creatures and heavily featured throughout the production on all characters. The masks came in a variety of forms, some as half masks covering the top of the face to the nose, others covering the nose, down to the chin. The production successfully utilised the masks but if I were to offer any criticism, it would be that there were times that no matter how well enunciated the actors were, the masks made it quite difficult to follow the dialogue.

The Wind In The Willows continues with evening and matiness performances at Pennington Flash until Sunday 4th August. It is a lovely way to while away the summer holidays with friends and family. It embraces its natural surroundings and is a great way to get out and enjoy the open air, even if the weather tries to keep you indoors. . .and if that doesn’t entice you, there’s a fabulous gin and prosecco bar there too!

Reviewer - Johanna Hassouna-Smith
on - 30/7/19

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