Wind in the Willows tour gives bush kids taste of theatre

Vivienne Wynter

Regional touring company RAVA, has announced a Queensland tour of a slightly Australianised version of the classic children’s story Wind in the Willows, starting in May 2023.

Creative producer Ruth Atkinson and director Alison Vallette founded the Toowoomba based theatre company in 2018 to create opportunities for Darling Downs actors and crew members and bring theatre to the regions.

Last year RAVA ran a successful regional Queensland tour of Charlotte’s Web with 100 per cent regional Queensland actors and crew.

Ruth says she and her partner created the company because they could see children and young people in the smaller regional towns were not getting the same chances to perform or enjoy live theatre as those in the cities.

“There’s a huge gap in the market of touring regional productions,” says Ruth. “Lots of music goes west. Longreach and Barcaldine get three to four live shows a year. In Brisbane, you get three to four live shows a week. In some small country towns we go to, the children are seeing live theatre for the first time.

“It’s rewarding seeing the little faces light up and introducing them to a whole new world.”

RAVA Creative Producer Ruth Atkinson

 A classic about being naughty

Director Alison Vallette says RAVA chose Wind in the Willows for its endless appeal to children and adults alike.

“The thing that attracted me to Wind in the Willows, was that it’s a bit naughty. Kids like to be a bit naughty and relate to Toad’s bad behaviour and they laugh.

“They learn about what it is to be naughty.  We do a Q and A with actors in character at the end of each show. Kids in the audience say to the actor who plays Toad “You are naughty and you went to jail.”

RAVA Director Alison Vallette

RAVA have adapted the play’s original script (by David Gooderson) to modern Queensland audiences, while being mindful of recent controversy about adaptation of Roald Dahl’s books and the comments about political correctness. www.theguardian.com/books/2023/feb/18/roald-dahl-books-rewritten-to-remove-language-deemed-offensive

Ruth says: “We stayed quite true to the original script apart from a few tweaks. We removed a couple of lines that mention flogging and locking people in bedrooms. In the RAVA production of Wind in the Willows, Toad is asked to ‘think about his actions’ rather than getting whacked.

“We’ve tweaked the script to focus a bit more on friendships. Badger, Mole and Ratty are good friends to Toad. Kids in the audience Q and A sometimes say to the actors playing Bader, Mole and Ratty: “Why are you friends with Toad when he’s so naughty?’

“Toad’s not a big hero, but the message is we are all friends and we are going to help you anyway. The actors might say to the kids: ‘When people are naughty, that doesn’t mean you can’t be friends. You talk about it and move on.’ In our version Toad is very, very sorry about his behaviour. We tweaked the end so he recognises the value of friendship but he still has a very big ego!”

Wind in the Willows cast

Ruth and Alison have been careful to keep the story and language fairly true to the era of Edwardian England the original is set in.

Alison says: “You still have to be true to the era and the ebb and flow of language, though we’ve added Queensland touches and the actors don’t speak in an English accent.

The show uses a portable set projecting images on the stage including a kookaburra and a gum tree rather than willow tree (see show poster at top of story) and images of Darling Downs waterways. Otter enters in a pair of Australian swimmers wearing thongs and lifesaver cap.

Big demand for regional touring shows 

RAVA received an Arts Queensland touring grant to tour the show, which is accompanied by drama and dance workshops to communities in northern and western regional Queensland in May and June 2023.

Ruth says because RAVA is a regional company the directors get what regional audiences need and are welcomed by regional towns.

“There’s such a high demand. We played to around 8000 kids last year in communities with not more than a few thousand people. In one tiny town, we had 450 kids at Charlotte’s Web. Every kid in town came.”

Alison says RAVA shows are designed to be feasible for regional communities with small budgets.

“We are more achievable for them financially than the big companies touring massive shows that cost a lot of money. We’re small and nimble and can adapt to any stage or on the grass outside. We can adapt to anything a community throws at us. All we need is a venue and we charge a moderate fee to cover costs.”

Ruth and Alison say the benefits to regional kids of seeing live theatre are clear to see.

“One 10 year old country kid watched Charlotte’s Web last year and said to the actors after the show ‘That’s what I want to be. How do I do it?  The actors told him: ‘Go to acting lessons, take drama classes’, said Ruth.

Alison says it’s also beneficial for country kids to know it’s ok for not everything to be about work, or being on the farm.

“In our workshops and from watching the shows, they learn it’s ok to get up on a stage to make people laugh. We do drama and dance workshops in some schools where there’s no drama class. We let them be silly and act like an animal and walk around the room laughing.”

RAVA’s production of Wind in the Willows tour dates below.

Wed 3 May – Townsville Civic Theatre

Fri 5 May – Charters Towers

Wed 10 May – Mackay Entertainment Centre

Fri 12 May – Hughenden Diggers Entertainment Centre

Tues 16 May – Julia Creek Cultural Centre

Fri 19 & Sat 20 – Mount Isa Civic Centre

Tues 23 May – Boulia Town Hall

Fri 26 May – Winton Shire Hall

Mon 29 May – Longreach Cultural Centre

Wed 31 May – Barcaldine Shire Hall

Fri 2 June – Aramac Shire Hall

Tues 6 June – Central Highlands (Emerald/Capella)

Fri 9 and Sat 10 June – Proserpine Entertainment Centre

Sat 17 June – Wandoan Cultural Centre

Wed 21 June – Miles Leichhardt Centre

Fri 23 June – Dalby Event Centre

Sat 24 June – Millmerran Cultural Centre

Wed 28 June – Beaudesert Event Centre

RAVA is available for more tours and interested councils and regional organisations can contact RAVA at ravaproductionstmba@gmail.com.

For more information go to www.ravaproductions.com.au

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