The Wind in the Willows has enchanted generations of children— first in 1908 as a novel penned by Kenneth Grahame, and then again as a British TV series in the late 1980’s that featured richly rendered stop motion animation. This past weekend the star characters of that timeless tale— a group of gentlemanly talking animals like Mole and Badger, along with the cantankerous Toad— once again charmed a whole audience of eager youngsters, this time at Beijing’s 9Theatre. The story was be brought to vivid life with puppets and songs, courtesy of the UK’s Bamboozle Theatre Company. Bamboozle’s reinterpretation was called Along the Riverbank, and boasted a highly kinetic storytelling style with plenty of audience interaction, making it immersive and accessible to audiences of all ages and cultural backgrounds.
The performance was coordinated by TONG, a local production company comprised of parents who aim to bring numerous child-friendly plays to the capital. Liz Ren, co-founder and executive producer of TONG Production, said that the show will “bring children in the theater on a daring adventure together, with the lively character Mole… to explore the riverbank… discover the dreamy dragon fly meadow… and (contend with) Toad’s mad ideas.” She recommends the performance for children four years and up, but adds that it is suitable for all young families “who are eager for fresh new ways of engaging with the children.” Ren adds that the show will meet the growing need of Chinese parents who are looking “for more interactive entertainment and education for their children.”
Below, Bamboozle artistic director Christopher Davies tells us more about the play.
Tell me about your main inspirations for this performance.
The Wind in the Willows, on which the show is based, has always been a favourite story of mine, ever since I was introduced to it by my grandmother before she took me up to London to see it in a theater.
What is the most difficult aspect of pulling this show off, and how did you overcome this challenge?
The challenges include making the set suitable for touring— it has to fit into a transit van – and still provide a big statement on the stage. Getting the puppets to walk is a technical challenge, requiring lots of prototypes and different constructions. They need to be able to walk when the puppeteer is using their hands to manipulate the back and head of the puppet.
Tell me about why children enjoy this performance, and how it can even appeal to children who do not speak English.
When we first made the show it was designed to appeal to early years children. We therefore made it visually stimulating. We also ensured that it has plenty of songs and music, so that even those who do not understand English will get a lot from it. Some of the scenes are hilarious and very visual– such as when Toad hides the picnic things – which people who don’t speak English will understand.
What are the educational benefits of this show? Does it teach children important lessons and values?
In our production we wanted to show that even though friends sometimes fall out, they can still patch things up. There are lessons about how being stubborn can mean that you will fall out with friends, and that sometimes people— like the play’s weasels— are not real friends, but only pretending so that they can get what they want. Essentially this is a charming story of friendship and adventure.
Along the Riverbank was performed from March 18-20 at the Beijing 9Theatre (Xiaozhuang, Chaoyang Rd., Jingguang Bridge, East Third Ring). TONG will begin selling tickets for its next children’s show, a rendition of the lauded Italian play The Painted Garden. beijingkids will follow up with a new article about that next play soon.