Pirates and Wind in the Willows – A Winning Combination

Cast Sing At Toad Hall from left Rabbit(Roscoe Mathers)Ratty(Leigh Piper)Toad(Ryan Hawke)Portly(Dante Arestia)Badger(Ben Noble)Weasel(Paul Morris). Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

Cast members at Toad Hall from left Rabbit(Roscoe Mathers) Ratty(Leigh Piper) Toad(Ryan Hawke) Portly(Dante Arestia )Badger(Ben Noble) Weasel(Paul Morris). Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

Two live shows from the Australian Shakespeare Company proved a hit with a seven year old and his `minder.’

There was enough action in both Caribbean Pirates at the Polly Woodside and Wind in the Willows in the Melbourne Botanical Gardens to keep the seven year old happily entertained. And the humour of the show and script together with the ability of the cast to deal with the elements, and some `determined youngsters’ kept me entertained!

Cast members of from Caribbean Pirates at the Polly Woodside in action – from left Doru Surcel, Christina Marks, Andrew Kroenert, Jon Peck, Caspar Conrick and Lucy Gransbury in action. Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

Cast members of from Caribbean Pirates at the Polly Woodside in action – from left Doru Surcel, Christina Marks, Andrew Kroenert, Jon Peck, Caspar Conrick and Lucy Gransbury in action. Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

Actors in both shows responded very quickly and often humorously to comments and actions from the younger members of the audience.
The storylines of both productions have  similarities – there are goodies and baddies and battles between the two with naturally the goodies winning. However the settings and characters are different and both shows are well worth seeing.
My favourite was Pirates – for the seven year old it was Wind in the Willows. I preferred Pirates because of what seemed to be the `ad-libbing’ of the cast and the luxury of seats under shade being provided for adults (it was a hot morning). And who can resist a pirate?

Cast members of Wind In The Willows – from left Badger(Ben Noble)Mole(Chloe Bruer Jones)Ratty(Leigh Piper)Head Chief Rabbit(Roscoe Mathers)Weasel(Paul Morris). Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

Cast members of Wind In The Willows – from left Badger (Ben Noble) Mole (Chloe Bruer Jones) Ratty (Leigh Piper) Head Chief Rabbit (Roscoe Mathers) Weasel (Paul Morris). Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

The seven year old appreciated the fact that Wind in the Willows had a child actor (Portly) and he also enjoyed the open spaces of the Botanic Gardens. My concern was the weather- it was very hot on the day we attended and shade was limited. As a result the crowd flocked to the few shady places available making it difficult for young kids to see, especially when they had adults sitting in front of them.  It was more of a problem in the first part of the show by the central lake.

Sally (Lucy Gransbury) challenges Captain Cuthroat (Doru Surcel). Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

Sally (Lucy Gransbury) challenges Captain Cuthroat (Doru Surcel). Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

Caribbean Pirates at the Polly Woodside

As the name suggests Caribbean Pirates at the Polly Woodside is set around the 1885 Belfast-built, three-masted, iron-hulled barque Polly Woodside.
The show opens with Scurvy Dave, Empty Drawer and Major Key talking with the young audience sitting on mats on the dock by the boat (seating for adults is provided behind the mats). Songs abound as the kids learn more about pirates including how to talk like a pirate.

Pirate Larry(LucyGransbury)hides.Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

Pirate Larry (LucyGransbury) hides. Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

The `action’ starts with the appearance of a Gypsy Pirate who has stolen a treasure map from the evil Captain Cutthroat. He believes the map was taken by his cabin boy Larry. Needless to say there are plenty of sword fights, rope swinging and barrel hiding and a few other surprises before good triumphs over evil.
Along the way youngsters join the pirates on the Polly Woodside. The show ends with more banter and songs resulting in a `feel’ good’ finish. Credit must go to the actors who, despite performing the show twice daily during the peak of the school holidays, still seem to be enjoying themselves.

Head Chief Rabbit(Roscoe Mathers)Toad(Ryan Hawke)And Ratty(Leigh Piper)in action. Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

Head Chief Rabbit (Roscoe Mathers) Toad(Ryan Hawke ) and Ratty (Leigh Piper) in action. Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

Wind in the Willows

There are also plenty of songs, stories and banter in the Wind in the Willows, which this year is celebrating its 28th year of performances in the Royal Botanic Gardens.
There are plenty of jokes – many of which are aimed at the `older’ members of the audience. The production also makes good use of the natural beauty of the gardens.
The action stars on the banks of the gardens’ central lake where Head Chef Rabbit transforms young audience members into rabbits. We gradually meet other members of Kenneth Grahame’s riverbank story including Weasel, Ratty, Mole, Badger, Otter and Portly.

Mole (Chloe Bruer-Jones)and Ratty (Leigh Piper) on the river. Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

Mole  (Chloe Bruer-Jones ) and Ratty (Leigh Piper) on the river. Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

There’s plenty of audience participation as the characters tell their stories, sing songs and enjoy a picnic by the banks of the `river’.
The action then moves to Toad Hall (audience members physically move) where we watch as Toad comes up with lots of `bright ideas’ and gets into trouble with the local constabulary thanks to some bad driving.
This results in Toad, and some of the audience, being sent to jail. Then young Portly becomes lost and youngsters are asked to go into the Wild Wood to help on the search mission – something most did with great enthusiasm!

Toad(Ryan Hawke)with Head Chief Rabbit(Roscoe Mathers). Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

Toad (Ryan Hawke) with Head Chief Rabbit (Roscoe Mathers). Image courtesy of Australian Shakespeare Company. Photographer Matt Deller.

While our heroes are searching for Portly, Weasel and his friends take over Toad Hall and capture Toad. The final scene- the battle to free Toad and take back his home was also greeted enthusiastically by the younger members of the audience.

Jenny Burns attended Caribbean Pirates at the Polly Woodside on January 19 2015 and Wind in the Willows on January 22 2015 as a guest of Australian Shakespeare Company.

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