REVIEW: Children do justice to classic story

Alnwick Playhouse Junior Youth Theatre's production of Wind in the Willows. From left: Rat (Megan Bell), Mole (Jemma Thew), Toad (Lucy Townsend) and Badger (Charlotte Walton).
Alnwick Playhouse Junior Youth Theatre's production of Wind in the Willows. From left: Rat (Megan Bell), Mole (Jemma Thew), Toad (Lucy Townsend) and Badger (Charlotte Walton).
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Alnwick Playhouse Junior Youth Theatre presented Wind in the Willows at Alnwick Playhouse on Tuesday, June 9.

What do you get if you cross a classic children’s tale with a group of talented and enthusiastic young actors?

Alnwick Playhouse Junior Youth Theatre performed Wind in the Willows.

Alnwick Playhouse Junior Youth Theatre performed Wind in the Willows.

A damn good show which was enjoyable from start to finish, of course!

Yes, the young’uns from Alnwick Playhouse Junior Youth Theatre were back on the stage on Tuesday night and, as usual, they served up another slick and entertaining production.

This time round, it was the much-loved and well-known story of Wind in the Willows.

And boy, did these little gems do justice to this famous tale about a colourful group of animal characters.

Now, Kenneth Grahame’s renowned story needs no introduction.

But the first thing to note about the Youth Theatre’s production was its different approach to telling the adventures of Mole, Rat, Badger and Toad.

The group’s show was essentially a play within a play. It opened with a bunch of Edwardian boarding-school children who were busy trying to decide which story they wanted to read.

Various classic novels were thrown into the mix, but they decided to go with Wind in the Willows.

The cast then proceeded to tell the story by playing the various characters in the book. This was interspersed with a group of narrators who read small passages of the story.

At the end of the show, when the story had been told, the audience was taken back to the classroom, where the youngsters had to leave the storytelling behind and go back to the rigours of tidying up – prompting grumbles from various cast members.

Speaking of the cast, the four lead players gave stand-out performances.

Jemma Thew was suitably mild-mannered and shy as Mole, while Megan Bell gave an assertiveness and confidence to Rat.

Lucy Townsend brought Toad to life, with an eccentric and over-the-top portrayal.

Indeed, the much-loved character is known for his impulsive nature and Townsend ably demonstrated Toad’s obsession for motorcars. She also showed off his spoilt side.

Charlotte Walton gave a reserved and intelligent feel to Badger.

There were other highlights aside from the leading foursome.

Of the supporting cast, Hannah Taylor impressed as policewoman Potts, with a fine parody of a stereotypical village Bobby, complete with an upright posture, hands behind back and an ’allo ’allo tone to her voice. Indeed, the cameo brought widespread laughter from the audience.

Hannah was also one of the narrators on the night, as were Kate Cooper, Sophie Green, Ethan Wood, Sophie Bell, Keeley Fielding, Daisy Duddell and Francesca Peddis and all eight did remarkably well and were clear in their dialogue.

Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of the production was the input from the youngsters themselves.

In the programme notes, director Sarah McLane said that the wealth of creativity that was demonstrated on stage was all based on the children’s ideas from workshops at the beginning of rehearsals, using their fantastic imaginations to create the scenes.

This has to be applauded. Yes, the Playhouse provides a superb stage for our local drama groups, not least for the young ones who can hone their skills in such a fine setting and venue. But giving them creative licence and input is an extra string to their bow and can only aid their development. It certainly bodes well for the future.

Speaking of Sarah, it was the first time that she has worked with the Junior Group as director.

It was a fine debut. The stage was full with props and the youngsters utilised the space superbly.

There were some clever set pieces too, including the way a horse-drawn carriage was replicated (see picture below) and the way the cast used their bodies to create the Wild Woods.

One of the great things about this particular production was the fact that everyone played multiple roles – an essential aspect of Youth Theatre.

The dances were well choreographed and the songs were catchy, especially the toe-tapping number, Poop Poop.

The show was around an hour in length – just about the right sort of time for a Youth Theatre production – and all of the youngsters did well with their lines.

Wind in the Willows was certainly another demonstration of the talented children that we have in the area. It also proved that the future is bright, the future is Youth Theatre.

The cast: Jemma Thew, Megan Bell, Lucy Townsend, Charlotte Walton, Sophie Bell, Amy Sparrow, Becca Pitcher, Keeley Fielding, Francesca Peddis, Daisy Duddell, Sophie Green, Amy Pitcher, Hannah Taylor, Kate Cooper and Ethan Wood.

Production team: Sarah McLane (director), Carrie Morrison (assistant director), Peter Brown (musical director), Joanne Burn (choreographer), Tim Swinton (lighting) and Andy Hunt (sound).