On the bank of one of the Garden lakes, we encounter the Head Chief Rabbit, and the audience are deputised as his Little Rabbits. He’s then joined by Weasel, a scoundrel of the highest order (well at least the order, Carnivora) and the two battle each other with their wits, as well as guitars. Soon, the other animals Otter, Mole, Badger, Ratty, and even Toad in a brief albeit damp cameo, make their introductions.
The audience move up the hill to discover Toad Hall and we meet Toad under better circumstances. Toad’s excited about his new car, but a run-in with the police means leaving it unattended. Weasel tries to claim Toad Hall for his own, leaving the remaining animals to help Toad and liberate his home.
This show was a real treat. To be sure, the search for shade was a concern, and certainly the 1763 helicopters that flew overhead didn’t help things either. I jest, but, hells bells, one must have flown over every 10 or so minutes drowning out the actors’ voices.
To the actors’ credit, they were excellent at pushing on regardless and interacted well with the audience – adults as well as the children – with no awkwardness on display, even when ‘sampling’ some of the picnic spreads that had been laid out. Costumes were great – simple and effective – as was the makeup, which withstood an ever more direct and hot sun throughout the show.
Oliver Byng was sensational as Toad. Chris Southall and Paul Morris did splendid work as Rabbit and Weasel respectively, playing their relationship more as if they were grumpy house mates starring in their own sitcom. Andrew Hondromatidis did well as Otter, Cop, and also a brief turn as the Judge.
Chloe Bruer-Jones, a rare female presence in the cast, was terrific as Mole, although sometimes her vocals were lost in the challenge that is projecting voice in the open air. Leigh Piper did good work as Ratty, as did Amon Prete in his turn as Otter’s son, Portly. Finally, Doru Surcel played Badger in a suitable dry, yet amusing, fashion.
Song parodies, improvisation, audience participation, flying food, weasel wee, and a funny script backed up by strong performances – this rendition of The Wind in the Willows was a lovely piece of bite-size family theatre.
The Wind in the Willows
Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne – Enter via Gate F on Birdwood Avenue
Performance: Friday 6 January 2017 – 10.00am
Season continues to 28 January 2017
Information and Bookings: www.shakespeareaustralia.com.au
Image: The Wind in the Willows – courtesy of the Australian Shakespeare Company