'There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.' In the hot weather of late, Ratty's paean to river life seems particularly apt, and anyone visiting the Open-Air's children's show could put this theory into practice afterwards on the boating lake in Regent's Park's beautiful grounds.
Kenneth Grahame's timeless animal fable always runs the risk of being over-familiar on stage but it's such a superbly written tale that it would take quite some sabotage to topple it from its comfortable perch. Whilst not always as zestful or engrossing as one might like, (and the musical interludes often seem superfluous) Laura Baggaley's production zips along at a fair and fluid pace.
Clearly aimed at a very young audience, its most successful moments are those panto ones that involve audience participation, children quickly relishing the chance to hiss a villain or assist with Toad's escape from jail. Mamoru Iriguchi's colourful use of play blocks as the main tool for scene-setting is a resourceful one as they allow for much flexibility, one minute the stage represents the Wild Wood, a quick flick and they're transformed into Badger's home.
Leo Conville, Simon McCoy and Terence Wilton are excellent as Mole, Ratty and Badger respectively and Jamie Beamish is highly entertaining as their bumptious friend. He's slighter than many a Toad, but from the first moment he bounds into the auditorium in green frock coat, top hat et al he projects the bombastic, charismatic nature of the character superbly, anchoring the production with a performance of delightful warmth and mischeviousness.
(Production photo by Alastair Muir)