Phoenix Theatre: BackstagePASS
|November 2007 • Act 1 Scene 2|
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Acclaimed British playwright and author Alan Bennett adapted Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale for stage in 1991. Several years before, he was contacted by the National Theatre in London, England to combine The Wind in the Willows with some account of the life of its author. In this excerpt from the introduction to the play he admits that he had not read the book as a child.
“I don’t recall reading The Wind in the Willows as a child, or indeed any of the classics of children’s literature. This was partly the library’s fault. In those days Armley Junior Library at the bottom of Welsley Road in Leeds bound all their volumes in heavy maroon or black, so that The Adventures of Milly Molly and Mandy were every bit as forbidding as The Anatomy of Melancholy."
Later in life, Bennett didn’t read the book because he thought he already had! “This being virtually the definition of a classic: a book everyone is assumed to have read and often thinks they have done so.”
When researching to write the play he set to work trying to interweave Grahame’s real and fictional worlds. But Grahame’s life had not been a happy one and so he ran into difficulties matching the cozy world of Mole, Ratty and Toad to that of its writer.
Kenneth Grahame was born in 1859. “He had never had (as he put it) “a proper equipment of parents,” and was effectively orphaned at the age of five when his mother died of scarlet fever and his drunkard father packed him off to Cookham in Berkshire to live with his grandparents; he never saw his father again. He was sent to St. Edward’s School in Oxford, where he did moderately well, and was looking forward to going up to university there when the family – or the “grown-ups,” as he thought of them all his life – decided he should go into the City as a clerk (“a pale-faced quilldriver”) in the Bank of England.”
Bennett writes that Grahame, when he was at his desk, “was often not doing the Bank’s work, but writing articles for the National Observer and The Yellow Book. Pretty conventional for the most part, his pieces deplored the creeping tide of suburbia and extolled the charms of the countryside, sentiments that have been familiar and fashionable ever since.”
At the age of 40, Grahame, very much the bachelor, surprised his friends in 1899 and became engaged to and then married Elspeth Thompson. Their son Alastair was born premature and half blind. Bennett writes:
“He was a precocious boy, though – Elspeth, in particular, insisting on his charm and ability – with the result that he was much spoiled and given to tantrums, during which he would beat his head on the ground in fits of grief and rage. When his father started to write letters to him telling the stories that, in 1908, became The Wind in the Willows, Mr. Toad’s tantrums were intended to ring a bell.
The book was far from being an immediate success (“As a contribution to natural history,” wrote The Times critic, “the book is negligible”), but at least this saved Alastair Grahame from the fate of A.A. Milne’s son Christopher Robin, dogged always by his fictional counterpart. Still there was not much else that went right for Alastair. Since his father had longed to go to Oxford, Alastair was sent there, but as a child of eccentric parents and lacking any social skills, he was as unhappy as he had been at Eton, and in 1920 was found dead on the railway line that runs by Port Meadow in Oxford.”
Bennett concludes his comparisons, “The ironies are dreadful; the river bank, setting of the father’s idyll, scene of the son’s death; the train, Mr. Toad’s deliverer, the instrument of the real life Mr. Toad’s destruction.”
Wind in the Willows: November 8 - 24, 2007
Kenneth Grahame's classic tale adapted for stage by Alan Bennett.
November 1: Box Office Opens
November 9 at 7:00pm: Free Pre-Show Lecture
November 13 at 8:00pm: Sign Language Interpretation
14 – 23, 2008
November 30 at 12:30pm: Orion Lecture
The Unusual Case of Señor
Morton: March 13 – 22, 2008
Phoenix Theatre cleaned up at the annual Victoria Critic's Spotlight Awards receiving nine nominations and winning:
Best Performance in a Community Production: Trevor Hinton, Richard III
Department of Theatre Alumni received seven nominations and won for:
Best Fringe Production: Pitch Blonde (Laura Harris)
Faculty member Ned Vukovic was also named for the Life Achievement Award in recognition of the amazing work he has done at UVic, both as a teacher and as a dialect coach on many productions.
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|© University of Victoria 2007|