Review: The Wind in The Willows – NSDF at Theatre 503 ***

The Wind in the Willows, presented by the National Student Drama Festival at Theatre 503 is, in its own way, a piece full of allure and some enchantment. There is a gypsy spirit to its shambolic nature that is hugely endearing, and the cast imbue it with joy which makes for a generally diverting hour in the theatre on a wintry afternoon. The sprawling, skittish opening, spread across the bar and staircase is sweet, if not terribly original, but it does lend the piece a glorious ‘found’ nature, rather as if one had stumbled upon some fairy glen in the woods.  The woods would seem to be the natural habitat for this piece, as once the action has moved into the theatre, it loses this accidental quality.  A shame because this piece is more moving when it is less theatrical.

Ashley Scott Layton directs with some lovely detail and inventive staging

There are some excellent performances here; Rupert Lazarus demonstrates just why he was the winner of the Spotlight Prize this year in an assured, blustery performance that oozes charm. Sarah Louise Davies turns in a controlled and elegant turn as Otter and Weasel, while Tom Colley impresses in a woefully small appearance. In some of the other performances though, there is a lack of focus which is distracting, and a generalised performance style which means there is never any real tension or suspense.

James Phillips does a commendable job of condensing Graham’s work into one hour, while Ashley Scott Layton directs with some lovely detail and inventive staging. The production never quite captures the variegated pace of the novel, mainly because the cast allow the piece to sag in the wrong places, so what should fly happily by tends to wander aimlessly. The talented cast cope ably with the musical interludes, which are pleasant, albeit rather chaotically staged.

While this show will beguile young audiences, there is little here for adults to sink their teeth into, although that is rather more to do with the realisation. Phillips’ script does indeed have some suitably darker moments but they are never fully developed in a production which prefers instead to charm and delight rather than scratch the surface of Graham’s pastoral tale.

*** (3 stars)
Runs until 18th December
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