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Show stays loyal to 'Willows' author

PUBLISHED: 09:31 27 November 2009 | UPDATED: 08:56 01 August 2010

THE heart-warming adventures of Toad, Ratty, Mole and Badger have been brought to stage and screen many times over the years.

However Spotlight Theatre Group's upcoming production stands apart from most in its loyalty to the essence of Kenneth Grahame's book.

THE heart-warming adventures of Toad, Ratty, Mole and Badger have been brought to stage and screen many times over the years.

However Spotlight Theatre Group's upcoming production stands apart from most in its loyalty to the essence of Kenneth Grahame's book.

The Beccles-based group will be performing a version of the tale that has been completely written by the show's director Stephen Picton.

And when it opens on Tuesday, it will be the first time that Spotlight has performed something that was written by a member of the group solely for their purpose.

Mr Picton, who will also play Rat in the production, was initially asked by the theatre group to direct the 1985 Broadway version of the tale.

“The Broadway production was slated by the critics,” he said. “At that point I hadn't read the book, amazingly, but when I read it I decided that the script I had been given was poor. It was unrepresentative of the book, and I thought that the dialogue was horribly American and twee. It was all a bit Hollywood and a bit unpleasant.”

Mr Picton used much of the speech in the book as the basis for the script, although had to mould it to create a coherent narrative suitable for the stage. He has also kept in the “odd lyrical bits” that give Kenneth Grahame's book a mysticism that eludes most adaptations.

“There are a couple of chapters that are pretty much always left out that I've included,” he said, citing the chapter The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which includes the God-like character of Pan. “It's a very beautiful piece of prose. It's almost like Kenneth Grahame is having a religious conversion. It's a really stirring chapter. I used Pan as an omnipresent character who comes backwards and forwards into the play.”

Mr Picton also wrote the music for the production, and has tried to reinforce this sense of mysticism in a score that draws heavily from English folk music. There are 20 songs in the musical, some of which use the original lyrics from songs in the book.

He said there was a more melancholy tone to the book, which is something he has played on in his adaptation. “I did a lot of research on Kenneth Grahame and he was an unhappy bloke with a very sad childhood,” he explained. “His son committed suicide just before his 20th birthday. I think there is that sadness underlying the book which I thought was interesting and worth bringing out. But it's still happy, and very entertaining for kids and adults.”

The production also bucks the trend by employing Rat as the main character in the play, as it is normally Toad who spends most time on stage.

“In the book Toad is not the main character, and I suspect that Rat is closest to the character of Kenneth Grahame,” he said. “There is a slightly serious side to him, and he gets slightly wistful.”

The Wind in the Willows follows on from Spotlight's summer performance of Sweeney Todd, although the cast for this latest production will be much changed.

“I'd like to think this will be a bit more popular than Sweeney Todd because that was a bit of an acquired taste,” he said. “We're getting near panto season and this has Christmas elements to it. There's a scene where they're all sitting round the fire singing Christmas songs.”

The performances will be at Beccles Public Hall from Tuesday to next Saturday, December 5, at 7.30pm, with a matinee on the Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets cost £9, £8 and £7 and are now on sale at Saxon in New Market, Beccles, or by telephoning 07887 750846.

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