Arriving at the Southwark Playhouse, we were led through the back door to The Vaults, a space I didn’t know existed – but how perfect a setting for Bad Physics Theatre’s production of Toad. This reinvention of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ takes places under two huge railway arches and the space, which is wet, dark and dingy, has been fantastically transformed by designer James Cotterill into the wild wood. The cast literally disappear into the depths of the “wood” and appear from every which way.
What strikes you from the very beginning of this performance is that this is a very exciting production. Bad Physics Theatre creates something really wonderful in the space, and kept me fully engaged throughout the performance. All the characters from the much loved The Wind in the Willows are present, none more so than the adventurous Mr Toad, played brilliantly by Dan Starkey. Starkey’s larger-than-life Toad leaps and bounds across the stage. With great comic timing and endless amounts of energy you can’t help but find this mischievous character a little bit loveable. Keeping Toad in line throughout the narrative are the usual suspects, Ratty played by Jonny Mcpherson, Mole (Steff White) and Badger (James French). The trio work very well together, playing off each other in their quest to keep Toad out of trouble, with some great one-liners.
Naturally, keeping a car-driving toad out of trouble is never going to be easy, particularly when a very jealous Weasel (Ben Neale) has taken it upon himself to rid the wood of the Toad, backed up by his accomplices Ferret (Avita Jay) and the wonderful Mark Conway as Stoat. A special mention must go to Conway who, during the scenes of deception, plays not one, not two but twelve rabbits, pulling it off with great comedic talent and a routine of voices and movements that would leave the majority stumped.
Director Dan Bird has worked and devised with the company to produce something very special: a darker portrayal of a well-loved tale, with great amounts of fun and laughter to keep you smiling throughout. The exciting thing about this production is that there is a real sense of experience, from the moment you walk into the space to the very end when you leave, this is a refreshing production that is well worth a visit.
Take it like a TOAD.