Wind in the Willows evokes a world of ease and charm according to Director, Simon Benson, talking about Bootham School’s latest production
With a script that is full of good humour, the cast and support team of Bootham School’s Drama and Art departments have come together to put on a stunning performance of Alan Bennett’s adaptation of Wind in the Willows. With nineteen cast members and a matching number of backstage crew. The show promises a great evening’s entertainment.
The star roles are played by: Marianna Cox (Toad), Bella Glover (Ratty), Freyer Collins (Mole), Rob Davidson (Badger).
The show runs on Monday, 8th and Tuesday, 9th February, 7.30pm in the Bootham School Theatre. Tickets can be booked via the School website (www.boothamschool.com) priced: £7 adults and £5 children.
Director, Simon Benson, said, “I hope you enjoy the production. I have loved working with these actors and with such a talented bunch of people behind the scenes – they have all made directing and producing this play a real pleasure.”
He went on to give more background - “Alan Bennett adapted The Wind in the Willows in 1990 for the National Theatre – where it was staged as their Christmas show later that year. Bennett
had been exploring for some time the possibility of creating a stage play that combined The Wind in the Willows with an account of Kenneth Grahame’s life. The idea never came to fruition. However, Bennett couldn’t resist going on to write his The Wind in the Willows in the light of what he knew of Graham’s life, and flavouring it with a large dose of his own inimitable good humour.
Kenneth Grahame was born in 1859, lacking what he described as ‘a proper equipment of parents’. Effectively orphaned at the age of five, he spent the rest of his childhood at boarding school. His hopes to go on to university were dashed when the ‘grown ups’ (as he always called his family) decided he should work in the City – where he duly went to work as a clerk in the Bank of England. He did well there and rose to the position of Secretary. Then, in 1899 (after forty years of bachelordom) he married – ‘rather resignedly’, according to Bennett.
It is, perhaps, no coincidence then that all the heroes in the book (Rat, Mole, Badger and Toad) are confirmed bachelors who take every opportunity to celebrate and enjoy their unmarried status (occasionally expressing some dodgy attitudes towards women along the way). One of the great pleasures of working with these actors has been seeing how they have responded to these bachelors – three of whom are, of course, being played by girls. Bennett has helped us hugely here by writing a script that is full of good humour and makes no attempt to take the characters too seriously. But the actors have helped too – as they have grasped hold of their characters and thoroughly enjoyed their foibles and idiosyncrasies.
While at the Bank of England, Grahame wrote numerous articles and stories – some for publication, some to amuse and entertain his son, Alastair. The stories written for Alastair became, in 1908, The Wind in the Willows. Given that Alastair was, by all accounts, a spoilt child given to tantrums; it is quite likely that the character of Toad was intended to ring a bell with Alastair. But it is difficult not to respond with warmth and affection for Toad, even when he is at his most egotistical, pompous and absurd. Certainly, Bennett has celebrated Toad as a
larger than life figure, but Toad is also as aware as we are of his inconsistencies and total lack of humility – and, though he may be ignorant in some respects, he is not unfeeling and is capable of generosity.
In the book, Grahame writes wistfully about the Riverbank, evoking a world of charm and ease. The Wild Wood challenges but does not threaten that, and the two environments have learnt to coexist in a sort of uneasy alliance. The World of human beings is a different kettle of fish altogether. When Rat declares, “I do not want to see the World. From what I’ve seen of it so far it has very little to recommend it. Everybody doing things, getting somewhere”, he expresses a sentiment close to Grahame’s heart – that modern suburban life, the spread of the railways and an ever expanding middle class pose a direct threat to the countryside and to nature. The World is largely absent in the play, the longest scene set in the World takes place in a prison cell – then on a train that helps Toad escape and return to the Riverbank. The symbolism here, coupled with what the actors bring from the World into their performances, perhaps makes us realise what Graham was getting at.