Toad of Toad Hall

By A A Milne
With music by Harold Fraser-Simson
A play from Kenneth Grahame’s book The Wind in the Willows
Directed by Bill Cronshaw

2010 Christmas production at the Playhouse Cheltenham

Photographs by Matt Golowczynski

It was like a relaxing stroll through familiar countryside; like slipping into a warm bath.
We all know the story of Toad, whether it be from Kenneth Grahame’s original 1908 book, A. A. Milne’s 1929 play based on the book or versions produced on radio, for the cinema and on TV; using actors, puppets or in animated form. The story of Toad has spawned (forgive the pun) countless theatrical variations on the theme.
This production stuck largely to the Milne version, including the original songs and incidental music. The main protagonists were exactly as you might have imagined them.  They each have a different character. Mole (Craig Roberts) was mild-mannered and self-effacing. Ratty (James Lark) was relaxed and outgoing. Badger (Bill Cronshaw) was rather gruff but looked upon as the senior statesman whereas Toad (John Martin Stevens) was pompous, impulsive and rich enough to be able to follow a whim.
As the plot unfolded, the interaction between the main characters and their run-ins with the Wild Wooders, allowed us to recognise and revel in these character differences. The acting of the central four was a tour-de-force supported by excellent makeup and costume. The remainder of the cast many playing several roles, added drama and humour in equal measure.
For special mention was the set design including props, which somehow had the quality of children’s book illustration without being simply derivative and the way in which the changes between scenes brought to mind the simplicity and naivety of a puppet theatre. I personally found it a delight.
Direction by Bill Cronshaw (who also played Badger) was sure footed, as you would expect from the founder of Dreamshed Theatre, a professional company committed to bringing live theatre to a wide variety of venues and audiences, while at the same time offering opportunities for actors professional development.
The smallish first-night audience, while enthusiastic failed to give the actors sufficient audible feedback during the play whereas it was clear during the curtain-call that they had, like me, thoroughly enjoyed the evening. The much bigger audiences which are booked to see the remainder of the run of 18 performances, including 5 matinees, are sure to an unforgettable experience.
Book while you can!
Finally, I must mention Annabel Lisk (one of three young actresses who play Marigold in rotation). She opened the first night performance single-handedly. The maturity, clarity and professionalism she demonstrated set the tone for an excellent evening’s entertainment.

Remotegoat 2010

We have just been to see your production at the Playhouse Cheltenham. Thank you for such a brilliant show. We have been reading the book prior to coming and the children were just enthralled by your characters. Have a brilliant Christmas.
Thank you again,

The Fisher Family