The Wind in the Willows and Toad of Toad Hall

Mole (John Garley), Ratty (Clive Revill), Badger (Mark Dignam) and Mr Toad (Patrick Wymark)

From 27 December 1956 to 19 January 1957, Patrick Wymark starred as Mr Toad in a Royal Shakespeare Theatre production of A.A.Milne's Toad of Toad Hall, based on Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows.

First produced in 1929 at the Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool, Milne's stage play was first produced at Stratford in 1954 with Leo McKern playing Toad.However, the 1957 production was the first time that the cast was drawn directly from the current Shakespeare company. Wymark's co-stars included Clive Revill as Ratty, John Garley as Mole, Mark Dignam as Badger and Toby Robertson as the Judge. Mark Dignam would go on to play Antonio in the 1957 RSC production of The Tempest at Drury Lane, and would later play Fairfax in the 1976 TV series The XYY Man. Clive Revill would later play Trinculo in The Tempest, and a prolific film and tv career in Hollywood. John Garley had played Will Lawless in the 1951 Young Vic production of The Black Arrow , and had recreated the disreputable role in the 1951 BBC serial. Sadly, John Garley would pass away in March 1957.

The Stage wrote that Patrick Donnell's production, "bubbles with fun and good spirit." Conceding that it was very much an actor's play, the reviewer found Clive Revill "superb" as Ratty. "full of twitches and nervous glances, endangering all with his immense tail." John Garley's Mole was , "a wafer-like creature, all stammer and stutter." Mark Dignam's Badger was, "dignified, stolid,", while Patrick Wymark as Toad was, "green and shining (and) wears bravado like a cloak with the white plume of conceit in his cockade."

Three years later, Argo Records produced a two-disc adaptation of Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows , with Patrick Wymark as the narrator.

Argo was more used to producing record versions of Shakespeare's plays, but the 1960 adaptation of The Wind in the Willows enjoyed the same attention to detail. Toad was played by Norman Shelley, who had played Winnie the Pooh on BBC children's radio. Mole was Richard Goolden, who had first played the role in the 1930 production at the Lyric Theatre and was so successful that he took part in numerous revivals over the next 30 years. Tony Church, a founder-member of Peter Hall's Royal Shakespeare Company, played a gruff Scots Badger, while prolific character actor Frank Duncan was Ratty. Script and direction was by Toby Robertson, who had played The Judge in the 1957 Toad of Toad Hall, and would go on to direct TV shows such as the first episode of Callan, and also become artistic director of the Prospect Theatre Company. The whole production barrels along and the scenes with Mr Toad in particular are delivered in the knockabout tradition of pantomime. No wonder A.A.Milne was so easily convinced that The Wind in the Willows would transfer to the stage.

As narrator, Patrick Wymark has a very light delivery, a million miles away from the Wilder growl (although it may be that there is some distortion in the recording).Nevertheless, from the very first "Spring was in the air.." Wymark invests the narration with the joyous spirit of the original.

One further Plane Makers connection - in Toad of Toad Hall's original 1929 Liverpool production, Ratty was played by Lloyd Pearson, later Sir Charles Elbertson, chairman of Scott Furlong.

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