Review: Toad of Toad Hall offers a masterclass in comic acting

Mr Toad's love affair with the motor car plays a major part in proceedings
Mr Toad's love affair with the motor car plays a major part in proceedings

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Toad of Toad Hall at the Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford

I don’t know what the cast of Toad of Toad Hall had for breakfast on Saturday morning, but it got them through three full-on shows that day with not a beat missed.

Loosely adapted from Kenneth Grahame’s classic Edwardian story the show foregoes some of the bucolic charm of the novel to focus on the adventure and above all on Toad’s love affair with the motor car, his escape from jail and the heroes’ recapture of Toad Hall.

Toad is one of the great characters of both page and stage (as no doubt he would tell you), and as such he occupies the limelight throughout (as he should, or so he’d say). He is reckless, sentimental, witty, maudlin, daring, fond, foolish and loyal all in one glorious, if rather round, package (he’d deny the round part). David Mears’s total embodiment of the great green hero is wondrous to behold. He lives and breathes the character in every mad and marvellous moment.

The Bear Pit Theatre is never short on acting talent. Natalie Danks-Smith is utterly endearing as Miss Mole, bumbling into adventure beside the redoubtable Mrs Badger, played with crusty gravitas by Shirley Allwork. Good old Ratty is played with vim and vigour by Dominic Skinner. A more sinister figure is cut by Tony Homer as the wicked Chief Weasel. There’s a full and rich cast and production team behind them.

As a play, Toad of Toad Hall is a welcome alternative to the usual Christmas fayre. As a masterclass in comic acting, David Mears’s performance is simply amazing.

* Toad of Toad Hall runs at the Bear Pit Theatre, United Reformed Church, Rother Street, Stratford until Saturday December 10. Call 01789 403416 to book.