“There is nothing half as much worth doing, as simply
messing about in boats,” the Water Rat - “Ratty” - counselled his
new-found friend the Mole, on learning that “Moley” had never been in a
D. Barnes: One Man Theatre at the Sheraton Grande recently.
These lines from Kenneth Grahame’s ageless classic,
“The Wind in the “Willows”, published almost 100 years ago in 1908,
have been quoted a myriad times. Even this Pattaya Mail correspondent has
added a touch of mortality to them, having used the phrase innumerable times
in his incessant writing about yachts, boats and boating.
But they came to life with charming reality recently at
the splendid programme featured by the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit Arts
Theatre, when world-renowned “One Man Theatre” Brian D. Barnes gave his
solo performance of the work, playing, consecutively, the Water Rat, the
Mole, Mr Toad, and Mr Badger.
Brian Barnes, euphemistically called the “jet-setting
minstrel”, is one of the very rare actors who can dedicate their creative
energy exclusively to solo performing. Brian has performed in some 80
countries world-wide, often associated with the cultural programmes of the
First conceived as a children’s story, which it
certainly is and always will be, the “Wind in the Willows”, however, is
also an in-depth look at humanity itself, with its foibles, idiosyncrasies
and deceits. The tale creates a world peopled with woodland and river-bank
creatures, only too recognizable and identifiable among one’s own circle
of friends and acquaintances: Ratty, the intelligent and friendly Water Rat
always positive about the creatures around him in everyday life; the
loveable, naive and enthusiastic Mole, the boastful, wealthy and totally
irresponsible Mr Toad and the helpful, loyal and shy Mr Badger.
Brian held a totally spell-bound audience at the Arts
Theatre, using no props, only voice impersonations, facial expressions, body
movements, a chair or two and a sheet. How different to the fare spooned out
on movies, television and other ‘weapons of mass distraction’ where the
actors are buoyed by so many accoutrements, gadgetry and gimmicks.
It is highly cognizant of the human condition, when Mr
Toad becomes infatuated with the motor car then ends up in prison, but
escapes to return his home at Toad Hall, only to find that ‘dark forces’
from the Wild Wood have invaded his hearth. The four friends unite to drive
out the invaders. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?
Even very early in its publication, a critic, Richard
Middleton, writing in “Vanity Fair” said: “The book for me is notable
for its delicate expression of emotions ... the characters are neither
animals nor men, but are types of that deeper humanity which sways us
Interviewed recently by the director, Bonnie Hurren,
Brian described the “One Man Theatre” thus: “As the art of multiple
impersonation, I have to convey the impression that I’m conversing with
characters who aren’t there. A narrator helps to keep the story flowing
and, like a variety artist, I direct a lot to the audience. It’s chamber
theatre and the technique demands an intimate auditorium.”
This is the perfect description of the performance, right
down to the “intimate auditorium” detail. The Sheraton Arts Theatre is a
seductive setting and, throughout the year, in the hotel’s endeavour to
bring culture and accessible entertainment to Bangkokians, the Theatre
features opera, vaudeville, plays and special events.
“The Wind in the Willows” was jointly sponsored by
the Sheraton Grande and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission
for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Bangkok-based UN organization. All
proceeds from the event were donated to the Kevorkian Foundation (Baan Nor
Giank) for children victims of HIV/AIDS.
Having heard it “in person”, I now look forward to the next occasion
when I can reproduce Ratty’s phrase “messing about in boats”.