Theatre reviews: The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Tinkerbell and the Dream Fairies, ASC

Three family-friendly shows presented by the Australian Shakespeare Company.

The Wind In The Willows 

Courtesy of the Australian Shakespeare Company (ASC), this year Toad of Toad Hall and his friends return for their 37th year in the Royal Botanic Gardens. This was my second year attending; my first time was back in the heady pre-COVID days of 2019 and I’m pleased to report that this performance was just as funny and entertaining as the first time around. 

Of the three ASC productions in this review, The Wind In The Willows certainly has the most undercover adult references for amusing the more mature attendees. Some of the older members of the audience – seated behind us – cackled so loudly that at some points I couldn’t hear the dialogue (not a complaint, it was wonderful). 

Much the show is unchanged from the performance of several years ago – modern musical references still include Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’. It would be great to make some small changes year-to-year, so families who come more than once are kept on their toes. The standout performer this time is Paul Morris as Weasel, followed closely behind by Callum O’Malley as Rabbit. 

It will never cease to amaze me how the actors can stay in character, even as gaggles of screaming children are chasing and literally hanging off them, giddy with with delight and excitement.  

This is a really solid production – funny, amusing and it keeps the kids entranced from start to finish, though the younger ones are definitely ready to jump up and follow Badger off into the wilds on an adventure, when the time comes. 

The Wind in the Willows
An Australian Shakespeare Company production
Tickets: $25
Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne

4 stars: ★★★★
The Wind in the Willows will be performed until 29 January 2023.

The Wind in the Willow. Photo: Supplied.

Alice In Wonderland

The ASC first produced Alice in Wonderland in 1989. It ran for five years, and then came back 10 years ago. Of all the shows reviewed, this is the one most in need of a refresh or even a rethink. 

There couldn’t be a better location for a production of Alice in Wonderland than Rippon Lea Estate, with its winding paths, beautiful foliage and historical mansion. But the nest of pop-up, bright blue, gazebos under which the audience is seated, creates a wall between the audience, the production and the estate itself. 

For those seated in the middle of the audience space, not even at the back, it is impossible to see some of the key characters (Cheshire Cat and Caterpillar), whose appearances take place atop the staging – the view is blocked by the gazebo roofs and awnings.   

The opportunity for adventures travelling around the gardens is not taken up, unlike in The Wind of The Willows. If these restrictions were part of the price of performing the show at Rippon Lea, perhaps sharing The Wind In The Willows’ venue at the Royal Botanic Gardens would be a better strategy for the ASC? 

The older kids in the audience also seemed to be better connected to what was going on, compared to the little tots, the exception being when the entire ensemble was performing together or during periods of audience involvement. Younger kids seemed less interested or engaged, though they perked up when parents were recruited to be in the show. A running time closer to two hours (with short delays) also means a long sitting for impatient toddlers. 

Given the difficulty of hearing the performances over the noise of an unengaged audience of mini-people, it was difficult to get a sense of the quality of all the performances. But certainly, the exuberance of the Mad Hatter (played by Dennis Manahan) means he is more audible and striking than the other performers. Alice, played by Casey Dunn, is lovely but needs to elevate her energy and volume substantially.

Alice in Wonderland
An Australian Shakespeare Company production
Tickets: $25-$30
Rippon Lea Estate

2 stars: ★★
Alice in Wonderland will be performed until 28 January 2023.

Read: Exhibition Review: Alice in Wonderland, WA Museum

Tinkerbell and the Dream Fairies

In the third ASC production for the holidays, Tinkerbell from Peter Pan meets up with the fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Mustardseed, Moth, Cobweb and Peaseblossom.

While Alice in Wonderland seems more appealing to a slightly older audience of kids, this is a production for a younger group. The narrative and storyline is loose to say the least, but thanks to a phenomenally energetic and talented cast, it’s a marvellous production that brings delight to everyone in the audience, but most importantly the little ones, who are encouraged to dress up for the performance in whatever they choose. While the bulk of the audience was made up of tiny little fairies, there were more than a few Ninja Turtles the day we went.  

This production is also more recent than the other two, having begun in 2016 both in Melbourne and London and playing here every year since. 

The cast of seven is made up primarily of members of one family, namely Sue-Ellen Shook as Moth, with her children Cameron, Ciara and Coleman as Tinkerbell, Cobweb and Mustardseed respectively. While all three of the performances include audience participation, this is the one that really gets all the little ones out of their seats from start to finish and reaches a crescendo with bubble machines that make the whole space feel truly magical. 

It is a beautiful production full of energy and colour and, when we saw it, everyone left the theatre smiling. 

Tinkerbell and the Dream Fairies
An Australian Shakespeare Company production
Tickets: $25-$30
Athenaeum Theatre

4 stars: ★★★★
Tinkerbell and the Dream Fairies will be performed until 28 January 2023.

A veteran journalist, Isabelle Oderberg is a comedy fanatic and has been reviewing comedy for six years. She also reviews restaurants, opera and theatre.