Q&A with the cast of the Wind in the Willows at the Rose Theatre, Kingston

The Rose Theatre’s big Christmas show, The Wind in the Willows opens on Friday (December 9). Here, some of the key cast members answer questions about Ciaran McConville’s adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s much-loved story…

How do you feel about being involved in The Wind in the Willows?

Gary Mitchinson (Mole): Well The Wind in the Willows is one of those quintessentially British novels which holds a fond place in most people’s hearts. Whether it was read to them as a child or they read it themselves, it’s just something that everybody seems to know. Even if it’s just to quote the infamous “poop poop”. So I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of it and it is the second time I’ve done the show but this is quite different.

Joy Brook (Otter/Mrs Badger/Aunty): The Wind in the Willows is such a magical tale, and having been brought up reading it, I jumped at the chance to be part of it.

Ben Greenwood (Kingston Academy and plays Portly): I am excited to be in this production. It is a fantastic opportunity to be working alongside professionals.

Frankie Oldham (Esher College and plays Pan Chorus 1): I’m so happy to be involved in this production; it’s such a fun and wacky novel/play and has hugely interesting characters. The morals of the story are sweet and relatable and showing them through our acting makes it very special to us as a company.

Amelie Abbott (Esher Church of England High School and plays Doris): I feel really happy about being involved in The Wind in the Willows. Everyone is great and we feel like one big happy family. I don’t want it to ever end.

What was it about the production that made you want to audition?

GM: As I said I’ve done The Wind in the Willows before many moons ago, I understudied Mole and Ratty, and was part of the actor musician ensemble, so to be able to re-visit the show and finally get to play Mole has really been an ambition of mine. The version I performed in was the Alan Bennett version, and as soon as I got the script for this and it was a re-imagining/new adaptation I was really excited. Also the thought of just having six adults and working with so many kids is not only a fantastic opportunity for them but for us [the professional actors] as well.

JB: The character breakdowns (which apparently we weren’t meant to get), they were so full of detail, that they could only have been written by someone who cared passionately about them, and, as that person was also the director, it followed that this was no ordinary Christmas show!

BG: I saw A Christmas Carol last year and was inspired to audition because I enjoyed so much and thought that it would be great to be part of the community.

FO: I have never been on the Rose’s main stage, so that was the main attraction to audition. It is such a large scale production and the chance to work with experienced professionals and creative team was something that I really wanted to be a part of.

AA: I had an amazing time last year when I performed in A Christmas Carol, so I was desperate to audition for The Wind in the Willows. I was so nervous waiting to hear if I got a part, and so happy when I did.

Do you have any advice for people hoping to get into show business?

GM: Without sounding too clichéd, I would say live a little. Go and watch theatre, plays, musicals, dance shows anything you can get your hands on. Travel, work behind a bar and gain life experience because they are all things you can draw on when you perform, to form your own opinion. Also be prepared to hear no, and not take it as a criticism on yourself or your performance. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way and you have to go “ok, on to the next one then”. It can be cruel but also the most exhilarating /rewarding and life-fulfilling business at the same time. How many people get to say they do what they love as a job?

JB: Work hard. Believe in yourself. Know your own unique selling point. And learn to handle rejection – it’s not personal (well, not all the time!)

BG: Take all of the opportunities that come your way, don’t give up and keep trying.

FO: I strongly recommend auditioning even if you feel nervous about doing so. The rewards of being involved are enough drive to buck up your confidence and go for it.

AA: Just have fun with it and keep going, even if you don’t get a part, the next one might be yours!

How do the characters differ in the play from the book?

GM: The major differences straight away are that Ratty and Otter are female. I think the characters principally are the same but every production will produce different versions. There are a few subtle differences also in the way Ciaran has written the arc of the play so characters journeys develop at different rates but I can’t say too much more!

JB: In the book Otter is a man, and in our version she is Mrs Otter – obviously a major change! But all the characters are essentially a true representation of the characters in the book.

BG: I think that all the characters are a lot more determined to complete their objectives in our play. Whether it is how to defeat Chief Weasel or how to find a safe place for the night.

FO: There are moments within the play where it is obvious that the lesser experienced animals, such as Mole give valuable lessons to the wise animals, such as Badger, which shows that anyone can influence anyone and give their opinions about certain things.

How easy is it to perform as an animal, what helps you get into your character?

GM: Well, I think it depends how far you would want to go. The characters in the novel are so human that actually it is only subtle animal tendencies that we notice. A lot of the work is done in costume and make up, which then allows us as actors to pick up on finer details such as claws, or body positions/movements/heightened senses of smell for example. In key moments within the story there are moments of more animalistic movement but they serve a purpose at that point. Getting into character is all done in the rehearsal room really, conversations you have, research, and trial and error to see how far you can go or where you need to pull back. Then when I’m the run it’s looking over notes and remembering what you discussed and putting it into practice.

JB: Our animals have obviously been humanised (as they are in the book), so we have all been working on adding touches of animal characteristics, and some of the younger cast are astonishing in their animal portrayals.

BG: We have done a lot of exercises to help us think about what our animals want. We have been studying our animals ever since we got the parts. We have been to the British Wildlife Centre to see how the animals move and react to different things. Overall it has been challenging.

FO: It’s very difficult to perform as an animal from the start, however once you begin to focus on the much smaller aspects, such as the feet or nose of the animal, you begin to develop interesting and specific choices that you can build up to complete the animal.

AA: It’s quite hard, but looking at videos of how a dormouse moves and its skeleton, has helped me with my character. Going to the British Wildlife Centre also really helped, watching the animals’ different characteristics. Ciaran’s [the director] warm up exercises help us focus on exploring our characters.

What do you feel is the moral of the story?

GM: I think there are a few. The overriding moral is friendship and heart. Through friendship comes strength and how that empowers people is quite simply remarkable. Of course there is the Toad storyline which is about respect and responsibility when in a position of power. It’s very difficult to pinpoint as I think there are a lot of things that Ciaran has managed to keep bubbling under the surface, but friendship and how through that strong bond of love you can unite.

JB: That when things seem the darkest, if we join together, we are stronger – and miracles can happen.

BG: I feel that the moral of the story is to always help your friends and choose the right path.

FO: The two strongest morals in this story are adventure and the importance of home. The lure towards adventure is a feeling that all the characters show in the novel and alongside this, all characters value the warmth of home and the stability and safety that it offers.

AA: Fight for what is right, even if it scares you. And the importance of friendship.

What do you think makes the perfect Christmas show?

GM: Now that is a difficult question! For me the perfect Christmas show is a piece of theatre that has lots of joy, heart and also some darkness. The overriding thing has to be a story of someone who through adversity somehow manages to make better of themselves or others around them. It also has to appeal to adults and children alike. And who doesn’t love a good old Christmas jingle thrown in for good measure?

JB: A fabulous story that makes you laugh and cry, and leave the theatre with the feeling that anything is possible.

BG: Songs and a happy ending!

FO: An audience and company filled with joy and excitement, along with a performance which absorbs and reflects the energy of everyone involved.

AA: A story with emotional twists and turns, lots of exciting dances and great songs and music.

Which character do you most identify with and why?

GM: Well, it has to be Mole! His vigour for life and discoveries is something that I feel we should all have. Yes we learn through experience, but how many can say that they remember their first experience of a river and friendship? He has a journey where through new experiences he gains a better understanding of himself and others and I think there is something in that for everyone.

JB: Mrs Otter. I have a nine year old son, and so everything that happens to Mrs Otter and Portly feels very real!

BG: Mole – he is always curious and asks a lot of questions. He loves being in the company of other people and is always on the look-out for adventure.

FO: I’ve always loved Toad, just because he makes the most out of every situation and has the most fun he can. He is loud, unpredictable and action is never far away from him.

AA: Doris the Dormouse, because I am that character and I understand the battle she has between being scared, but wanting to be brave.

The Wind in the Willows, runs from Friday, December 9 to  Tuesday, January 3, 2017. Tickets start from just £10 with family options available and can be purchased rosetheatrekingston.org (booking fee applies), calling 020 8174 0090 (booking fee), or in person at the box office.

Richmond and Twickenham Times | Theatre