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Reviews / A magnificent feast of talent

Drama teacher Peg Young reviews a local production of Kenneth Graham’s classic ‘The Wind in the Willows’

The Wind in the Willow production team.

WHEN visiting a friend here in Shetland on our trip home from Canada, I was delighted to be asked to attend one of two performances of an adaptation of Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows put on by Open Door Drama’s junior summer school on 5 August in the Gulberwick Hall. I attended the 2pm performance.

Having been a drama teacher, a professional actor and a child supervisor for professional productions I was able to appreciate the enormous effort, planning and commitment made by the production team. When I heard that 30 participants were involved, ranging in age from seven to 12 years of age, I looked forward to seeing how everyone managed.

Working with children have a very different ‘feel’ from working with adults who have some level of assurance about the task in hand. Youngsters however, can suffer visibly from what I call ‘the wobbly confidence factor’. It ranges from total comfort on stage to the ‘I need to spew’ level.

Despite the severe limitations of the hall and the large number of cast members, I was not put off by the difficult and awkward scene and wardrobe changes. I was thinking that those must have been a nightmare for everyone. In a ‘proper’ theatre with enough space, those moments would have been seamless, I’m sure.

Kudos must be awarded to the director for the choice of an adult to play Toad. Mr Smith’s presence created excellent focus for the bairns without overpowering them. On the contrary the bairns seemed to appreciate Toad and were enlivened by his strength.

Congratulation also to those responsible for the adaptation and musical selections. On a side note, I remember singing Ducks Ditty at the Music Festival C. 1952. I don’t remember how I fared; I am just grateful that I was not asked to do any actions!

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My only criticism (besides the venue) is the old ‘I can’t hear you’ syndrome. It was difficult to follow some of the story due to shyness, distraction and probably nerves. As a result some good lines were missed. It’s tough to get bairns to project. I would suggest that they be told to speak as enthusiastically as they sang the closing number!!

In this venue the audience were totally visible and was a distraction especially when searching for Mum or Dad.

With such a large cast it was hard to pinpoint particular players but aside from Mr Smith, I was charmed by Abigail Rogerson playing Ratty. Her manner was mature and she delivered her lines with confidence.

Another stand-out performance was Jacob Jamieson playing Badger. He is what I would call, a ‘natural’ with confidence, a strong presence, good voice and a mature sense of timing.

It was a magnificent feast of talent and, despite interruptions from peerie audience members, a thoroughly charming and enjoyable feast.

The fact that these bairns only got a script on the Monday afternoon and presented two shows on the Saturday is some kind of minor miracle (I heard only three prompts).

The level of commitment in those so young is simply marvellous. The trust and support shown by the adults, presenters and parents alike was almost palpable. I have no doubt that drama in Shetland with continue to be strong.

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