The Wind in the Willows | RAW-EMThe Haven Amphitheatre is an education and experience in itself. Even the drive down, by mandatory shuttle-bus, was informative: the thoughtful Willoughby City Council driver telling something of the heritage of the area and venue. Designed by Canberra’s creator, Walter Burley Griffin, as part of a vision for a(n) (sub)urban utopia it was rescued from being a tip in 1992 and refurbished, so that locals and visitors alike might enjoy productions such as RAW-EM’s (don’t ask me) Wind in The Willows.

Winnie-The-Pooh’s adorable writer, A. A. Milne adapted Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic early on, so why haven’t I seen it before?

Miss Marigold’s vivid dream of animals enjoying ‘human’ adventures (someone should’ve warned her off cheese-lover’s pizza before naptime) proves an absolutely delicious treat, thanks to director, Deborah Jones, and a judiciously-recruited cast, which ranges from simply charming (Mathew Halliday, as Mole) to brilliant (the irrepressible Blair Cutting, as the talented & popular Toad).

Introduced by violinist Alla Sharova (generous enough to offer a few impromptu lessons to a host of kiddies), who musically carries the evening, we’re first taken into the tale by way of Marigold’s wild imagination (depicted by the impossibly statuesque Jess Macaulay) and her disbelieving Nurse (Fiona Pearson); both roles handled with aplomb. Dreamtime introduced us to Mole and the endlessly enthusing Rat, played convincingly and with boundless energy by Nick Beech.

Brett Nevill gave us the legally blind and befuddled Badger; Michael Terry was a dastardly, wily Chief Weasel; while Olivia Solomons (as with Pearson & Macaulay) amply pulled-off multiple roles, including Chief Stoat and the ditzy, impressionable gaoler, Phoebe.

But there was no denying the star turn, the stylishly-named Blair Cutting, who, while sounding like a matinee idol, looked every bit a Toad and relished every line. (He even posed for photos, like some garishly green rockstar, après performance.) As a result, so did we.

If there were other stars, they was backstage: the glimmering Greiner ‘twins’, Tori & Simon, put the icing on the cake with their costumes and prosthetics; Ratty’s tail, for one thing, was monstrously lifelike! To give further credit where due, Ant Sullivan consulted, on makeup.

Noone could fault the simple, but effective lighting design, neither: by Larry Kelly; or seamless stage management, by Andrew Ko. Nor would we have survived without the small courtesies (like cushions and repellant), or ice-cream, cake, coffee and, appropriately, Freddos, provided by a bevy of helpers.

Onya, Annie Cossins & Julie McKay, for keeping on keeping on, with the RAW-EM theatre company!

The Wind in the Willows
Based on Kenneth Grahame’s book
Venue: The Haven Amphitheatre, Castlecrag
Dates: March 1 - 16
Tickets: Adults $20 and children $12. Groups of 7, get 1 ticket free | Refreshments will be available.
Bookings: Roger Page & Partners, 100 Edinburgh Road, Castlecrag or patrons can call during business hours on 9958 0124. 

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