By Helena Parker
Moley loves spring cleaning, Ratty just wants to mess about with boats and Portly the Otter is lost in the Wild Wood! The Wind in the Willows at the Royal Botanic Gardens invites those young and old to join their adventure by the River in this interactive show that will charm and delight.
In its 17th consecutive year The Wind in the Willows is truly a quintessentially Sydney experience that for a lucky few of us, defined our childhoods. It is quite a sweet way to spend a summer evening with a picnic and blanket and, situated in front of the Main Pond at the beautiful Botanic Gardens, it offers spectacular views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
Although the show can be enjoyed by all ages this is most definitely a children’s show designed for families. Guitar songs invite the audience (“little rabbits”) to “waggle your ears, wiggle your nose’” and dance along with Head Chief Rabbit and Weasel. The show is highly interactive with characters running through the seating area and throwing bread into the audience. Willows ends with a final walk into the ‘Wild Wood’ to find our Otter friend.
Children will delight in this show. The show does veer off significantly from the original novel by Kenneth Grahame and has a less established narrative. Loved characters such as Ratty, Moley, Mr Badger and Toad remain but a new group of names also join them on their adventures by the River. The show itself more closely resembles a classic ‘panto’ with audience members calling out “he’s behind you!” and singing along to songs rather than being an adaptation of the original story. Much of the action seems to be improvised and references to modern popular cultures (eg. Star Wars) sneaks its way into the play. Indeed, the performance starts off with an acoustic rendition of ‘Shotgun’ by George Ezra (to rabbit appropriate lyrics, of course).
The simplified story and interactive style suits itself to young children around the 3-6 year old mark who dominated the audience, although there were older children present and seemingly enjoying themselves. It is a great night out for the family as it is located in picturesque surrounds during daylight and is only an hour long. Really, for adults it is mostly the atmosphere and setting that appeals as the content is really suited for young children, although I did enjoy the costumes and dancing.
However I would have liked to see more of an attempt at a real set, even a few small items, as the play uses only the Main Pond as its representation of the River. Having no set made the play feel a little makeshift and less official somehow, as it was simply a few actors running around a patch of grass. No doubt the beauty of the gardens makes up for it, but a bit of set design would have gone a long way in adding to the sense of whimsy in the production. The Wind in the Willows has established itself as a Sydney tradition and beefing the production up a little bit would have asserted its cultural importance. I would also recommended grabbing a spot towards the front if possible. As the actors are not wearing microphones, their voices can be easily drowned out and it seemed as if audience members at the back were less engaged due to this error.
The Wind in the Willows is ultimately a charming experience and a lovely way to spend a summers night, especially for those with children. For adults it may be a little less magical, but judging from the bopping and giggles from the littler audience members, this production is sure to be a hit they will remember in years to come.
The Wind in the Willows plays until the 26th of January at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.