AA Milne’s ‘Toad of Toad Hall’, amongst other adaptations, shows Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic lends itself well to theatrical performance, but this new children’s musical, while brimming with energy in its adventures of Mole, Rat, and Mister Toad, leaves an odd taste in the mouth.
The problems aren’t found in its fine young cast from Yvonne Arnaud Youth Theatre. Dominic Chelsom and Luke Pitman are fun as slimy weasels, while Lucy Gavan does a commendable impression of David Niven as Ratty. Perkins’ music has some charming moments, and even when some notes in the higher registers clearly strained the young voices, as an ensemble they sing well together.
The primary issue is found in Adam Forde and David Perkins’ script that, seemingly inadvertently, makes our sympathies lie squarely on the wrong side through what appears to be a cack-handed reference to the occupy protest. We all know the story of The Wind in the Willows, but here, the weasels, ferrets, and stoats are servants under the apparent opulence of the fat, car-obsessed (and in my opinion unsympathetic) Mister Toad, and in their dark side of the wood they complain ‘no one really likes us – it’s discrimination!’. So they hatch a plan to overthrow the local squire and occupy Toad Hall themselves. After coercing Mister Toad into committing a crime, they take over Toad Hall, singing revolutionary songs, speaking broken French, and alarmingly waving a red flag. Young children won’t recognise, or perhaps understand this plot addition, but it troubled me as these revolutionary images had no place in Wind of the Willows and especially not in this fashion. The so-called bad guys seemed to represent people whose lives aren’t peppered with the luxury of Mister Toad’s life and wanted a piece of the cake. I felt let down with the happy ending when these revolutionaries were put in their place, as if an injustice had occurred - highly puzzling.