Wind in the Willows is a Breath of Fresh Air
Take a classic English children’s tale, add some whimsical puppetry and spice it up with gentle humor and you have the latest offering at Ottawa’s Arts Court theatre.
The Wind in the Willows by the Rag and Bone Puppet Theatre is a treat for younger children and adults alike. Featuring puppeteers Kathy MacLellan and John Nolan and musician Russell Levia, the production takes a journey through the lives of animal friends the Water Rat, Mole and Mr. Toad who live on the banks of the River Bank. The classic turn of the century tale set in the English countryside comes alive during the production through the use of simple back drops such as silk scarves and falling leaves, all aided by the delicate sound of live music including an oboe, banjo, zither, hornpipe.
The effect is startling – a shimmering white scarf falling down on the Water Rat and the Mole as they venture into the Wild Woods represents snow falling, two green scarves moving in concert with each other represents the flow of their beloved river. Then there is the puppetry itself. MacLellan and Nolan do an excellent job at switching from one character to the next – from a washerwoman, to a judge to a baby otter – in a seamless performance. Both puppeteers artfully combine the use of smaller hand puppets with puppets that resemble soft sculptured stuff toys and the use of masks, wigs and other props. A video screen which forms part of the puppet stage adds to the special effects of the show provides moving montage such as a windy dark forest and a road down which Mr. Toad drives a car.
Best of all for the young audience are the frequent touches of humor in the script mixed with Canadiana. For instance, the English picnic of cucumber sandwiches and ginger beer featured in the original tale becomes the more Canadian rice crispy squares and soda pop. Deft touches of humor throughout the show delighted the young audience. The section of the Wind in the Willows tale where the adventurous and irresponsible Mr. Toad becomes obsessed with motor cars (with disastrous results) elicited squeals of delight and laughter. A particular hit with the kids was the character of Mr. Badger with his deep voice, handle bar mustache and bowler hat who frequently interacted with youngsters during the show. All in all, the Rag and Bone Theatre did a fine job in turning a much loved but slow moving English classic into a fast paced rollic without losing any of the charm of the original story. The Wind in the Willows production by the Rag and Bone Puppet Theatre is highly recommended viewing for both children and their parents alike.
The next Rag and Bone production of the Wind in the Willows will be held at the Shenkman Arts Centre at 245 Centrum Boulevard Ottawa on April 1 and 15, 2012. For more information on Rag and Bone please visit www.ragandbone.ca. More information about other upcoming productions at Arts Court can be found by visiting www.artscourt.ca.