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THE KILLING OF MR TOAD

Written and Directed by David Gooderson
Designed by Ruth Hall.
Musical Direction by Stefan Bednarczyk.
Choreography by Miranda Fellows.
Sound by Giles Webb.
Presented by D2 & Co in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre
Cast: Stefan Bednarczyk. Leo Conville. Elizabeth Counsell. Timothy Davies. Jeffrey Perry.

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of Kenneth Grahame’s birth and the 101st anniversary of the publication of The Wind in the Willows...

Sundays and Mondays, 19, 20, 26, 27 April, and 3 and 4 May 2009.

The Killing of Mr Toad revisits a timeless classic and the extraordinary story behind it.

1934. Elspeth Grahame, elderly widow of Kenneth Grahame, lives alone, rarely washing, barely eating. When she receives flowers from a young fan of The Wind in the Willows, memories flood in and the familiar characters of Toad, Badger, Rat and Mole appear – to perform a musical entertainment in honour of their creator, laying bare the tragicomedy of their real-life counterparts: the shy, retiring Kenneth Grahame, who was both Secretary of the Bank of England and a successful author; Elspeth, an eccentric socialite; and their bumptious only son – who became the prototype for Toad.

This rich and unusual play begins as a celebration of a famous book, but becomes a hard-hitting story of a dysfunctional family, unrealistic parental ambitions and teenage breakdown – as the author who delighted so many children is unable to save his own doomed son.

Revived for the first time in 25 years, The Killing of Mr Toad was first produced at Salisbury Playhouse in 1982 and at the King’s Head Theatre in 1983, and was subsequently adapted for BBC Radio 4 where it was selected as one of the Best Plays of 1984 in The Daily Telegraph and described as “excellent” by Alan Bennett in Writing Home.

Playwright and director David Gooderson is also an actor best known for his television work which includes Davros in Dr Who and Simpkins the Pathologist in ITV’s A Touch of Frost. His writing includes four plays broadcast on Radio 4 and five plays for children, co-written with David Conville and all produced at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park including a musical adaptation of The Wind in the Willows (music by Carl Davis) which has twice broken Box Office records, and played two Christmas seasons in the West End. He also edited My Dearest Mouse, a facsimile edition of Grahame’s letters to his son. His directing includes The Playboy of the Western World with Stephanie Cole and Christopher Biggins (Salisbury Playhouse), and Staff Direction for English Touring Opera. In March 2009, he will be joining Libby Purves, Terry Jones and Terence Stamp in a special event to celebrate the centenary of The Wind in the Willows at the British Library.

The cast includes Elizabeth Counsell whose credits include Salad Days (Vaudeville Theatre), The Great Big Radio Show (Watermill Theatre, Newbury), Valentine’s Day (Globe Theatre), M Butterfly (Shaftesbury Theatre), The Corn is Green (Old Vic), Jean Seberg (National Theatre), Present Laughter (Vaudeville Theatre),The Glass Menagerie (Lyric Theatre, Belfast),The Haunted Hotel (No.1 Tour), 101 Dalmatians (Nuffield Theatre), Blithe Spirit (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Noel and Gertie (Jermyn Street), and The Lost Musicals (Sadler’s Wells), as well as seasons at Billingham and the Bristol Old Vic. Television includes ER, Doctors, Lock Stock, Nelson’s Column, Blue Heaven, 37 episodes of Brush Strokes, and 19 episodes of Executive Stress. Film includes If Tomorrow Comes and Claudia’s Story; Stefan Bednarczyk’s credits include Semi-Monde, Laughter on the 23rd Floor (West End), The Game of Love and Chance (National Theatre),The L.A. Plays (Almeida Theatre), Dick Barton Trilogy, Zipp! (UK Tour), Five O’Clock Angel (King’s Head Theatre) and the film Topsy-Turvy; Leo Conville’s credits include The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Wind in the Willows and Babe (Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park) and Red Night (Finborough Theatre); Timothy Davies’ many theatre credits include Bedroom Farce (West End) and seasons at the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare’s Globe and Chichester Festival Theatre. Film and TV credits include Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story, Perfume, Fantabulosa! ,Mysteries of Egypt and 18 episodes as Kilvert in Kilvert’s Diary; and Jeffrey Perry whose credits include Hard Times, Playing Sinatra, and Hysteria (National Tour), Prisoner Cell Block H – The Musical (Queen’s Theatre), Nashville (King’s Head Theatre), Forgotten Voices of the Great War (Southwark Playhouse) and 2 series of The Chronicles of Narnia (BBC TV).

The Press on The Killing of Mr Toad

On the original production:
“A sad delight…I enjoyed every minute of it”. Robert Hewison,The Sunday Times
“A fine play…an engrossing series of under-stated scenes” Dick Vosburgh, Punch
“An entertaining and mordant piece”. Giles Gordon,The Spectator
“A haunting evening “ Martin Hoyle, The Financial Times
“A strongly-knit piece with pathos and a touch of horror too.” What’s on in London

On the Finborough Theatre production:

**** Four Stars Whatsonstage

“Unusual, imaginative and superbly acted, this is a wonderful theatrical experience. At times extremely funny, at other deeply touching, it achieves exactly the right balance of humour and tragedy and works particularly well in the intimacy of the Finborough.” Whatsonstage

“Occasionally in the theatre, the cinema or when turning the last page in a book and finally placing it down there is a fundamental shifting in the soul that means you have been profoundly moved by the tragedy of others and reminded of what is important. As the lights dim on The Killing of Mr Toad one cannot help but be moved by the tragic true story.” Extra Extra

“For most people the mention of Kenneth Grahame’s timeless classic The Wind in the Willows evokes warm childhood collections of gentle bedtime stories….Few, however, are aware of the extraordinary tale behind this much-celebrated book and it’s this that is the subject Gooderson’s The Killing of Mr Toad.” Whatsonstage

“Elizabeth Counsell and Jeffrey Perry give stellar performances as the protagonists with Perry’s transition from nervous, subservient Mole to Grahame, his childlike creator, a real joy to behold.” Whatsonstage

“Leo Conville is outstanding throughout, seamlessly evolving from the swaggering, pretentious Toad into young Mouse, portraying his early childhood and troubled stages of his adolescence with ease.” Whatsonstage

“Counsell really shines here; from the stricken howl of the bereaved mother to her gentle, continuing search for the truth at the end of the piece, she effortlessly evokes real pathos.” Whatsonstage

“The songs show a good variety of musical numbers, illustrating areas of the story rather than intruding upon in.” Extra Extra

“The casting of the play is very good.” Extra Extra

“Elizabeth Counsell as Elspeth carries all the emotions like her wealthy looking dressing gown.” Extra Extra

“Jeffrey Perry firstly as Mole and then Kenneth Grahame, brings the shy, childlike author to life with great sympathy for his frailness and his quiet demeanour.” Extra Extra

“Stefan Bednarczyk as Rat gives a good turn about the piano.” Extra Extra

Image copyright – The estate of E.H.Shepard reproduced with permission of Curtis Brown.