A trip to the theatre is always a leap of faith. Often, the show doesn’t turn out quite the way you imagined. It’s rare though, for the production to be so different from the one you expected that you spend the first couple of minutes wondering if you’re in the right theatre.
About the UK tour of In The Willows produced by Metta Theatre and Exeter Northcott Theatre
Take some upbeat music, vocal talent, rapping and a couple of Christmas carols. Add a plethora of dance styles, acrobatics and British Sign Language. Sprinkle with charismatic performers playing a modern take on classic characters. Set loosely to the theme of a well-loved childhood story and draw in an audience made up of children, seasoned theatre-goers and apathetic teenagers.
As the stage exploded into life, we sat back and waited for a familiar story to unfold. The old favourite characters from The Wind In The Willows were still there, but in a notably more modern form than we are used to.
In The Willows is set in a struggling high school on Mole’s first day. Popular pupil Ratty excels academically and aspires to attend Cambridge University. Chip off the old block Toad is in danger of following in his dad’s footsteps and ending up in prison. Flamboyant Duck steals the show at every available opportunity, whilst Weasel and his gang lurk darkly in the background. Students are supervised, taught and inspired by Mr Badger.
Friendly Otter plays a key role in both the story and the concept of the production. Played by deaf dancer Chris Fonseca, Otter signs his lines. He incorporates BSL in his dance moves throughout the performance, whilst other actors’ use of BSL increases later in the production.
The cast and concept of In The Willows
Fonseca’s incredible performance as Otter stands alongside the awesome vocal, acting and dancing talent of the rest of the cast. Big names include Clive Rowe as Mr Badger, Seann Miley Moore as duck and Matt Knight as Chief Weasel. Street Dance choreographed by Rhimes Lecointe to incorporate BSL makes the performance totally accessible to a deaf audience. A BSL interpreter also signed throughout the production.
One thing that struck me about In The Willows is how accessible it is to young people who may not be used to the theatre. Teens will relate to the characters whilst children are swept along by the music and the older generation enjoy a new take on this classic story.
For us as a family, the production was thought provoking and sparked a lot of discussion. My five year old loved the music and dancing but I don’t think she totally followed the story. Meanwhile my seven year old was totally engaged. We discussed whether doing the right thing or friendship is more important. She asked great questions about the decisions the characters made and came away inspired to find out more about BSL.
The theatre wasn’t full this evening, although I suspect shows later in the week will be incredibly popular once word gets out about what a fabulous show it is.
[AD] In The Willows tickets gifted by Malvern Theatres for the purpose of review.