After many months of being deprived of any kind of live theatrical entertainment, it was a real treat to be able to go along to watch Immersion Theatre’s production of The Wind in the Willows when their national tour passed through the beautiful grounds of Blenheim Palace this week, writes Angie Johnson.

Until last month the company feared that they would not be allowed to proceed with their annual summer circuit because of the lockdown measures, but when those were relaxed for outdoor venues, the tour could finally go ahead as planned.

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Hooray for that policy shift, because this innovative, jolly and accomplished company have put together an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable show, which turned out to be just the ticket for raising one’s spirits in these unsettling and frustrating times.

Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale was first published in 1908. The stories that eventually became The Wind in the Willows began life as little pieces written in letters to his young son Alistair, and Grahame took great inspiration from his own pleasure in ‘simply messing about in boats’ on the river Thames, which he lived near to in Berkshire.

This production is a faithful and animated adaptation that captures this spirit perfectly as we follow naïve little Mole’s adventures when he tires of spring cleaning and leaves his dwelling to explore the world above (after months of lock down I completely empathised with this!).

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In so doing he meets and befriends sprightly Ratty the water rat and wise old Badger. The galvanising appearance of their volatile chum Toad sets them all off on exciting adventures – culminating in Toad’s imprisonment for traffic offences, and his hilarious escape from prison dressed as a washerwoman. On discovering that some undesirable neighbours, the weasels, have taken over Toad Hall in his absence, the gallant furry foursome band together to fight off the unwanted intruders. Great stuff!

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Taking place in the charming location of the walled garden at Blenheim Palace, you could not wish for a more beautiful and convenient position.

Being outdoors meant that all the social distancing measures needed were stress-free.

There were a limited number of tickets for the show and the space was well organised. Little family group bubbles were dotted here and there in front of the stage area, thoroughly enjoying their picnics while waiting for the show to start.

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It was a very pleasant atmosphere all round. Though the weather was a bit ‘changeable’ at times the energy of the cast kept everyone’s spirits pepped up throughout with lots of jokes, songs and comedy routines.

As fellow audience member Milly, five, told me: “I really like it and it is funny and I can dance to the songs”.

She was right. Composer and accompanist Robert Gathercole had provided a great score which gave lots of opportunities for audience participation and we all made the most of that, I must say. Though our efforts were nothing compared to the energy of the outstanding cast who capered and sung with brio.

Congratulations to the clever Chris Whittaker who choreographed the show to fit all this lively action into a bijou but perfectly lovely set.

Throughout the show, the performances were not only lively but also well realised and charming.

This gave a real freshness to the well-known and well-loved story. Each cast member brought their own special magic to their character, which was enhanced by the wonderful costumes created by Rochelle Parry.

Ashley Cavender was the perfect Toad of Toad Hall and had the audience constantly in stitches.

Luke Haywood, Ben Brooker and Tommy Carmichael’s portrayals of his chums Mole, Ratty and Badger were also excellent realisations of these iconic characters.

I would like to make special mention that in the sometimes thankless role as the baddie Weasel, James Tobias was hilarious and a real favourite with the crowd.

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While remaining loyal to this classic tale writer and director James (Weasel!) Tobias has conceived a wonderfully light-hearted show that made all of the audience members honorary riverbank dwellers for the afternoon.

This production of Wind in the Willows is utterly charming, entertaining for all ages and so much fun.

Poop-poop! As Mr Toad would say.