Theatre in review: The Wind in the Willows, Falstaff and Romeo & Juliet

‘Enthralling’ outdoor theatre for children and staging that lifts the spirits

Romeo & Juliet
Rebekah Murrell as Juliet and Alfred Enoch as Romeo in Romeo & Juliet
(Image credit: Marc Brenner)

It’s “hard to imagine” a more “enthralling” and entertaining piece of outdoor summer theatre for children than Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s new staging of The Wind in the Willows, said Mark Brown in The National. The event boasts a “fresh, witty and lively” adaptation of the Kenneth Grahame classic by the writer Mark Powell, a “superb” cast, a rousing musical score – and a beautiful setting in the theatre’s riverside grounds.

A firm environmental message and topical themes underpin this “jolly” production, said Mark Fisher in The Guardian. When Alicia McKenzie’s Mole says she’s been hibernating, Ali Watt’s Ratty notes, “We’ve all been inside a lot.” After our own enforced hibernation, this Wind in the Willows “becomes a show about rebirth and renewal” – and a thoroughly enjoyable one, too (until 12 September).

Scottish Opera’s staging of La bohème in the car park of its Glasgow production studios was an artistic beacon in the darkness of last year’s lockdowns, said Rowena Smith in the same paper. Its successor is an equally impressive (and far more lavish) new staging of Verdi’s Falstaff by Sir David McVicar, which moves indoors at the Edinburgh International Festival next month.

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In recent years, Falstaff has often been played as a “sitcom, a giddy reel of sight-gags and slapstick”, said Alexandra Coghlan in The Spectator. What you get with McVicar’s “grown-up” staging is less raucous but no less joyous: the “warmth of slow-spreading operatic sunshine that seeps into your bones” and lifts the spirits.

The singing is top-notch across the board. And Roland Wood’s incomparable Falstaff – “opulently sung from start to finish, thuggery pierced with sudden flashes of charm” – is “magisterial” (Glasgow until 17 July; then Edinburgh from 8-14 August).

The summer season of Shakespeare’s Globe is not exactly firing on all cylinders, said Dominic Maxwell in The Times. Its Romeo & Juliet (until 17 October) is a leaden, didactic affair that comes over “like an over-eager English teacher out to prove that Shakespeare is ‘relevant’ to modern youth”.

Baldly educational statements (about crime, poverty, teenage depression, the patriarchy and the damaging impact of the closure of youth clubs) burn away in red surtitles on a giant screen, upstaging the drama they are supposed to illuminate. Alas, the actors are also made to read them out. “Suicide is the leading cause of death among all people under 35,” intones Capulet when Romeo and Juliet die. Talk about “a buzzkill”.

There’s zero spark between the leads; and “despite some real talent in the cast”, most characters barely register. When, at the end, the Prince tells us “Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things,” it is “as if he’s telling us to go into discussion groups together before we are allowed to head home”.

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