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South East
posted/updated: 11 Apr 2019 -
In The Willows - ★★★★
Produced by Metta Theatre and Exeter Northcott Theatre
society/company: Oxford Playhouse (directory)
performance date: 10 Apr 2019
venue: Oxford Playhouse, 11 - 12 Beaumont Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 2LW
reviewer/s: Alex Wood (Sardines review)

The cast of In The Willows UK Tour. Photo Richard Davenport


In The Willows is a hip hop musical combining the story of Wind in the Willows and the modern-day goings on at The Willows, an inner city school with all the problems its location implies.

As someone who would be hard put to explain what hip hop is I have to say that I really enjoyed this show.

Now six weeks into its run the show is very fast and slick with individual performances within this ensemble piece extremely strong.

Clive Rowe is perfectly cast as hard-pressed but wise and inspirational teacher, Badger. Clive combines his calm and commanding presence with a fine singing voice, dealing with the various styles of music with ease and confidence. No wonder he’s a go-to performer for so many producers. Making an impressive professional debut Victoria Boyce begins the show as the vulnerable Mole, hoping to use school to make something of herself following a childhood tragedy which hints at a troubled background. With a very strong singing voice, Victoria inhabits the character totally, developing from someone who would rather hide in the background to become the girl who springs Toad from his prison cell.

I enjoyed Harry Jardine’s portrayal of the reckless Toad – in this story the son of a career criminal. Harry creates a subtle but strong rapport with the audience and has some great comic lines, delivered with well-judged comic timing. I especially enjoyed the very funny ‘What Have They Done?’, delivered with bathos on the occasion of his return to Toad Hall … they ate all the macaroons (except the coffee ones), killed Alan the goldfish and even failed to use the coasters!

Finally, mention must be made of Zara MacIntosh, so strong and dynamic as Rattie, a role which sees her dealing with the conflict between her potential to take up a place at university and her friendships at The Willows. Beautiful dancing combined with her strong singing voice and some sensitive acting – Zara nails it!

Chris Fonseca (Otter), Bradley Charles (Chief Weasel), Abiola Efunshile (Owl), Seann Miley Moore (Duck), Katherine Picar (Bitchy Rabbit) and Treasure Iyamu (Twitchy Rabbit) form the rest of this excellent ensemble whose energy and skill would grace any West End show.

I was not only impressed by the signer, signing in the show’s hip hop style but also Metta Theatre’s admirable ambition to make this an accessible show by including signing which integrates smoothly into the show itself.

Well-designed costumes give some recognition of the characters from the original story and the whole is supported by a well thought out and quickly adaptable set and intelligent lighting.

In The Willows has a great deal going for it. It’s lively, very witty and topical – though, at times I struggled to make the links between Kenneth Grahame’s original tale. That said, none of that seemed to bother the very attentive audience of young (some very young) people who were at the performance I attended.

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