Musical review: Sincerely, Mr Toad

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review: Sincerely, Mr Toad at Pleasance Dome (Venue 23), reviewed by Susan Mansfield

SELL A Door Theatre Company won a Fringe First last year for Emily Jenkins’s play Rainbow. Their current show could hardly be more different: a musical about Kenneth Grahame, the writer of The Wind in the Willows, and the tragic story behind the book’s creation.

Sincerely, Mr Toad has all the components of a musical, competently produced: the song-and-dance routines which appear out of nowhere, the heart-wrenching solos, the big, blustery pre-recorded backing track. But what makes this show more than the sum of its parts is the depth at which it engages with its story.

It begins as Kenneth and Elspeth Grahame rejoice over their newborn son, Alastair, a much-loved only child. But the omens are bad: pain which signals the beginning of a lifelong illness for Elspeth, and the diagnosis that Alastair is blind in one eye. As he grows, Kenneth indulges his son with stories and fantasies, determined not to make the mistakes his own harsh alcoholic father made. But the boy grows up troubled, burdened with expectations he isn’t fit to carry.

While the headstrong Alastair is believed to have given Grahame the inspiration for Mr Toad, the book’s success also drew him away from his wife and son when they most needed him.

Writing team David Andrew Wilson, David Hutchinson and Katie McIvor manage a subtlety of characterisation that musicals sometimes lack, and Any Dream Will Do runner-up Keith Jack (Alastair) heads up a strong cast. Adam Venus is excellent as Grahame, the frustrated bank clerk who invests his dreams in his son, and Sarah Borges (Elspeth) gives an impassioned performance as his neglected wife. Kirsty Marie Ayers sparkles as Alastair’s friend, Beth.

A few aspects of the story would benefit from greater clarification, including the strange incident in which Grahame was shot at by a socialist protester at the bank in 1903. But Sincerely, Mr Toad succeeds in capturing all too well the human drama at the heart of this tragic story.

Until 26 August. Today 3:30pm

More info: Sincerely, Mr Toad at Pleasance Dome

Originally published in The Scotsman

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