Child review: Charlotte Trichard (Age 10)
In The Willows, by Metta Theatre, was a daring adaptation of the classic story The Wind in the Willows. In this version, the main character, Mole, struggles to fit in at a school called The Willows. She makes two new friends but then goes joyriding on a stolen bike with the bad kid Toad. This lands Toad in prison. A gang called the Weasels to threaten Mole unless she tells them how to get into Toad Hall. Mole then ventures to get Toad out of jail but gets thwarted by the Weasels who kidnap Toad. Mole and her friends rescue Toad and the Weasels are sent to prison.
This production was jampacked with action, street dance and lots of rapping and singing. The dances were clever and original. The songs had beautiful harmonies. Clive Rowe, who played the part of Badger, had a beautiful voice although he got slightly out of tune when he hit the high or low notes. When the cast rapped their lines, they also did sign language. Though this was clever and imaginative, at some points it left me slightly confused.
There were also many flashing lights, strobe effects, loud noises and booming speakers. Everything was very loud. Some of the babies and younger members of the audience started crying. I was quite dazzled by all the flashes! The age guidelines suggest that the production is appropriate for children over the age of six. However, the performance deals with themes such as gangs, crime and violence. This may or may not be appropriate for certain children over six, depending on their ability to cope with such topics.
There were many funny highlights in the musical. Harry Jardine as Toad took off all his clothes, excepting his socks and underwear, to escape from the police. This got the biggest laugh of the afternoon! Toad was a funny character, however, I worry that some of his ‘cool’ behaviour was actually criminal.
This production was quite good fun, but I did not like it as much as the original. It did not have very many links with the original book by Kenneth Grahame and it required a lot of energy to see it.
Accompanying adult comments: Catherine Flutsch
I really wanted to love In the Willows. Indeed, there is so much that is admirable about Metta Theatre’s production, which is peopled with a hugely talented and dedicated team. That team is clearly passionate about highlighting issues of social justice in a vibrant, fun and engaging way.
In the Willows is an updated version of Kenneth Grahame’s classic pastoral tale of the bucolic joys of the English countryside. Metta Theatre takes the characters and places them in an inner-city school whose pupils are suffering from poverty-based lack of opportunity.
There were technical problems with the production that I found surprising. Quite often, soloists had their faces bathed in shadows, which made it difficult to see their expressions and affected their ability to connect with the audience. This happened to poor Mole more than once during her rather spectacular Frozen-style solos.
The stage was often bathed in colour combinations that were quite hard on the eyes – dim red and green, dim blue and green. There was never any point, other than at the curtain call, where the stage was lit in a way that made it easy to see. Of course, lighting sets the mood, but there must be a way to combine lighting that indicates inner city poverty with the ability to see the stage.
Another problem that I found affected the production was the varying abilities of the dancers. Street dance suffuses the entire production and yet, some dancers were not quite as accomplished as others. When the routines involve groups dancing the same movements, this becomes quite obvious.
One last issue that I think parents will want to know is the volume of the show. Without an interval, this show is around 1 hour and 40 minutes long. And it is LOUD. Not just theatre loud. It is bad nightclub loud. You will feel the beat of the rap/hip-hop in your internal organs. At some points, I became concerned about the hearing of the child accompanying me. Treat this production as a rock concert and bring hearing protection headphones.
Metta Theatre’s production of In the Willows has its heart in the right place and, for the most part, succeeds in bringing something different to children’s theatre. When Metta Theatre prioritises respecting its young audience by providing the best story, the best technical production and the best execution over its desire to highlight issues, then its productions will rise to another level.
- A Metta Theatre Production
- Directed by Poppy Burton-Morgan
- Designed by William Reynolds
- Cast includes: Zara MacIntosh, Clive Rowe, Victoria Boyce, Harry Jardine and Bradley Charles
- The New Theatre, Oxford, before going on tour.
- Until 8 June at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford