WIND IN THE WILLOWS

Escot Park
19th July 2009

Braving the rain and wind, both of which miraculously abated during the two performances, Tale Valley Community Theatre performed Wind in the Willows at Escot Park on Sunday 19th July 2009. The script was an original adaptation of the story by local writer Nick Pruce and Charles West composed the music.

The company used the presence of the River Tale to give the story relevance and as audience members approached the redwood knoll where the play was performed, they found Toad on the real river, with Badger fishing and Ratty and Moley picnicking.

The recalcitrant Toad tried several forms of transport until he steals a car and ends up in prison. Disguised as a washerwoman, Toad (played wonderfully well by Geoff Nicholson) escapes and takes part in a raid on Toad Hall which is occupied by the Wildwooders. The Weasels (played by eight able female actors from Sidmouth College) are scared away by timid Moley (Tom Pettitt) who, left by Badger (Trevor Vanstone), Ratty (Laurie Palmer) and Toad to face the occupiers alone, scares them away with a terrifying ‘Boooo!’.

Toad’s pledges to mend his ways are short-lived when he spies a bi-plane careering across the sky and chases after it in a new fit of passion. Unlike a previous production, Foresight, in 2007, the director John Somers did not use a real plane to fly over, but a superb model which was painted by Roy Clements, an artist from Ottery St Mary who worked with Joan Littlewood on Oh What a Lovely War in the 1960s. Roy also painted twenty leaves with quotes from the play which were placed in the field where audience members could read them as they approached the performance venue, a redwood knoll in Escot Park. Other painting was done by Sharon Kilhams, a professional scenic artist from Uffculme who has worked on several TVCT productions.

The story was told by Tale Teller Stephanie Houghton whose daughter, Freya, played the Gaoler’s Daughter – and a tree, the other tree being played by Charlie McFadzean. Talented actor Alex Davies played Otter and a number of other parts, with John Somers playing the Magistrate. Ali Owen stage managed, assisted by Tilley Vanstone, Jayne Vanstone and Gill Tift. A choir of twelve under the direction of Charles West provided the choral support aided by instrumentalists Steve Chapman (bass guitar), Martyn Whitehead (clarinet) and Andrew Maries (accordion).

Ben Vallack of Exeter-based Photoropic filmed the production with Ben Scott and Mark Hayes on cameras two and three. A high-quality video of the production is under development.

Director John Somers said:

“This is not my usual style of theatre, but I made it to support the Tale Valley Trust fundraising day on July 19th. Performing outside is risky – not just because of the rain; we had the clear mountains of muck from the site after the electric fence failed and cows left their sloppy mark everywhere. Large amounts of sawdust were scattered to reduce the risk of slipping and everyone triumphed in the end. I expected very few people to see it due to the weather, but nearly two hundred turned up across the two performances. Audience responses would suggest it was a great success.”