Youth theatre brings The Wind In The Willows to the Chichester stage

Chichester Festival Youth Theatre restored normality last year with a triumphant return to their Pinocchio production which had been so cruelly cut short by the pandemic the year before.

This Christmas they turn their attentions to another of the great classics, The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame, adapted for the stage by Alan Bennett and with music and additional lyrics by Jeremy Sams, running from December 17-31 at Chichester Festival Theatre. Youth theatre director Dale Rooks will once again be at the helm and is relishing it: “I really enjoyed directing Pinocchio. There's something about a new adaptation when you're working on the research and the development world of the piece and you are getting to make more decisions and it is a much more collaborative thing working with the playwright. I think just every element seemed to come together really well with Pinocchio last year. I loved the design and the costumes. They were so colourful and so bright and it was exactly what everybody needed after the couple years before.

“There was a simplicity about it that really worked well... unlike with the piece we're doing now! The Wind In The Willows is probably more popular as a title. I imagine a lot of people read it as a child or had it read to them but the thing is with this one is that it is episodic and it needs a lot more theatrical imagination to be able to make it work. There was an astonishing production at the National in the mid 1990s. That's where I saw it and it has definitely very much stayed with me. The suggestion to do this now this year was from the executive team. We've never done it before. Actually we did a Toad Of Toad Hall in the grounds of Rolls Royce with the youth theatre some years ago and that was obviously one of the elements of story. That was quite a few years ago and it was great to do it in the natural environment. There was water. We had a little lake, and really you can't beat those natural elements, I don't think. With this version now we'll have to use suggestive lighting and suggestions of place.

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"We can't have water this time and I don't think I'd want to have water with 65 people! But it's very nice to have a large-scale cast of characters that can all become effectively stage managers in making the transitions between scenes work. The five main characters will alternate in the actors playing them and we have got 65 in total but what really surprised me is just how many speaking roles there actually are in it so it is great in that respect. I would say that the downside is possibly that it is very male dominated but I've changed that. I've put quite a lot more female roles into it.”

What makes Bennett’s adaptation so special? “The original story book was very serene and very calm almost all the way through but what the adaptation brings that is so good is a sense of danger and a sense of threat to it much earlier – a threat to the tranquil world of the river bankers. I think it could be a little bit tedious for everyone if it had been calm all the way through! And Bennett is great at capturing toad. I hope that toad will be lovable. He is irresponsible and he does lots of things to show off and he is annoying. He steals motor cars he could easily afford to buy which is definitely irresponsible. But you still love him.”