BREEZILY BLOWING IN FROM 1908, FRESH AS EVER
In Mole End on Christmas Eve,in a burrow cosy with domestic detail they’re breaking out the beer and sardines and reminiscing about the adventures that brought them together. They will take us, enthralled as we sit around the big studio, from Mole’s first rebellion against housework on a fine spring morning to the enlisting of Badger, Toad’s shenanigans and the showdown with the weasels.
As they tell it they re-enact Grahame’s Edwardian classic: three actors most suitably clad. Rei Mordue’s Mole is a little city gent in a dark blazer and bowler; Darren Latham’s exuberant Ratty a Henley chap in straw boater and flannel bags, Badger’s huge black and white fur coat and hat is more animal but aha!beneath it, in some very nifty offstage changes, Matt Penson wear’s Toad’s gentleman-rascal breeches and yellow weskit. For he plays both the dour working class scholar hero Badger, and the preening narcissistic Toad.
Joanna Carrick’s skilful stage adaptation is faithful too: while the show is fun enough for its school matinees – the physical comedy of Latham and Penson inparticular is lively and sharp- witted – she does not shy away, as many adaptors do, from Grahame’s orotund dialogue exaggerations. When Mole scorns the doorscraper and doormat he gives Ratty the full querulous, almost Kenneth Grahame, Edwardian chap-banter. And the five year old in my eyeline was as agog for that as he was for instructions to shout or to patter his feet like a sinister wild wood weasel.
I liked that. And almost more, loved the instant, elegant prop and set work (design by Carrick, Newborn, Katy Frost and, apparently, everyone in this gallant, community-based but professionally smart outfit). Mole’s homely kitchen furnishings artfully become – with prior artful arrangment and paintjobs – a boat, a person, a canary coloured car, a car, a barge and everyone else’s home. Nor are chimney smoke and bathroom bubbles grudged, for Red Rose Chain is ever theatrical. This fast makeshifting is vital in family shows: when you’re young it helps to know that you can put a show on with wooden spoons, upturned tables, numerous hats and cheek.
The songs are good too: short, jolly, once accompanies by Mole on the accordion and once, briefly but unforgettably, by an imprisoned Toad giving it the full Folsom Prison Blues mouth-organ lament.
I am an adult and I loved its wit and pace. Children have roared approval (I suspect especially for Toad). The company’s outreach means that many who otherwise aren’t likely to get to another show this Christmas – or indeed ever – have seen it. Including two busloads of refugees. For once, a bit of Arts Council money bore fruit and went the right way, sowing seeds for the nation’s creative future. Never roll your eyes at the word Ipswich: the town gave us Trevor Nunn, Ralph Fiennes, Jane Lapotaire… and now Red Rose Chain.
Boxoffice www.redrosechain.com To 31 dec