The Wind in the Willows at The Old Rep
December is definitely panto season at theatres across the country, however, if you want something to entertain the kids that doesn’t involve you having to shout “behind you!”, then you won’t go wrong with a trip to The Old Rep in Birmingham to see The Wind in the Willows. We were invited to watch Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s story bought to life by Scott Ritchie Productions.
The Old Rep Theatre is opposite one of the exits to Birmingham’s New Street station, making it very easy to get to. Not knowing anything about The Wind in the Willows, and having never been to The Old Rep before, Freyja was a little nervous. However, when we arrived Rokiel Entertainment were on hand, providing craft activities for children to do. Within a few minutes, Freyja was completely at ease and busying herself making a hat, finger puppet and colouring-in some Wind in the Willows themed pictures.
At about 15 minutes before the show was due to start, we went to find our seats. Due to the site of the theatre being fairly small, the auditorium is pretty steep. This actually means, that despite us being a couple of rows from the back in the stalls, we had a great view of the stage. I was a bit worried that Freyja would quickly get bored and fidgety whilst we waited for the show to start. However, whilst the audience were coming into the auditorium, the supporting cast came on stage and interacted with each other and props. It got Freyja interested in what was happening, what each of the different animals that the actors represented and built up the anticipation for the start of the show.
Freyja was completely mesmerised by the whole performance. She very quickly understood who each of the different characters were and was delighted by the songs and dancing. As much as I also wanted to watch the action, I couldn’t help but spend some of the play, just watching her. The size of my smile rivaled hers as she clapped along to some of the songs. Although she didn’t completely understand all that was being said, she understood the gist of it, and through the energy of all the performers, she become immersed in the story. The actors were made up to look like each of the characters they were playing, but still looked clearly human. Not only does this really work with the characters in The Wind in the Willows book, but I think it makes it less scary for younger children.
Although, this wasn’t a panto, the lead actors interacted with the audience. They moved through the auditorium at times. At one point Mr Toad “borrowed” an audience member’s phone and a couple of members of the audience were invited onto stage to act as jurors (complete with bunny ears) for Toad’s trial. There was just the right amount of audience participation – not too much to distract from the story, but enough to delight the children. Of course, Mr Toad has found himself in this position due to his obsession with cars, leading him to steal one. Freyja recognised that he had been naughty, but thought the judge’s decision to send Toady down for “20 trillion years” was a bit harsh!
What I really loved about the play was the references to Birmingham land marks and the fact that the five main characters are Midlands-based professional actors. We particularly loved quintessentially English Ratty and slightly scary (but with a gorgeous brummie accent) Chief Weasel and of course Toad. Because you can’t not love Toad. The whole performance had lots of energy and plenty of humour to entertain all ages. The Wind in the Willows is 2 hours long, with an interval. Freyja was entertained for the whole performance, but I know that Emily (aged 3) would not have coped for this length of time. You can find more information including the dates and times of the shows here.
We had a brilliant time watching The Wind in the Willows, and would thoroughly recommend both the play and a visit to the wonderful Old Rep Theatre. This was our first visit there, but it definitely won’t be our last!
Disclaimer: We were given our tickets in exchange for review, but as always, all opinions are our own.