Review: Ryedale Festival, The Wind In The Willows, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, July 14

KENNETH Grahame’s classic children’s novel makes ideal fare for a musical, here described as community opera. Richard Shephard’s shapely tunes are so ideally suited to David Horlock’s ingenious lyrics that their opera falls somewhere between pantomime and Gilbert & Sullivan, only panto never had music as good as this nor G & S any animals.

Professional actors may have taken the leading roles, but the stars of this show were the ferrets, stoats and weasels played by 20 children. Not only did they sing with clarity and commitment, they were equally well-drilled in the choreography by Drew and Hannah Wintie-Hawkins. Jack Hambleton excelled in the Field Mouse solo.

The central foursome was led by the irrepressible Toad of Harry Hart, a car-crash in human form, judging by the frightening noises off. A Toad In A Hole was the hit of the show. His cross-dressing as a washerwoman, like a pantomime dame, was hilarious. It also gave the show its audience song, which needed a touch more rehearsal.

Toad's comeuppance was slickly handled by George Attwell Gerhards as Ratty, smartly sporting a white blazer and boater, deftly accompanied by Mick Liversidge’s cheery Badger, locally accented, and Florrie Stockbridge’s woebegone Mole. All Tabitha Grove’s costumes evoked the 1920s or 1930s.

A wind quintet with percussion, double bass and bass played with immense assurance under Eamonn Dougal, who found time to take to the stage as an old-style copper. A really fun afternoon.

Directed by Em Whitfield Brooks, Shephard's community opera also was staged at Kirk Theatre, Pickering, on July 13.

Martin Dreyer