Toad Of Toad Hall.

Performed in the Summer of '99, we used a data projector which projected a series of images in a Powerpoint presentation onto a white screen that had a forest border. These images formed all the scenery, even for the interior scenes. It meant that we could change location very quickly, using only key furniture to suggest the place and it still retained a visual richness. The difficulty of course lies in how the lights are focussed because if there is too much spill onto the screen the images are washed out. The image was back projected as it was much tidier and the screen was made of white sheeting stretched over a timber frame, the whole costing about £40.

As you can see from the above image it works well, particularly as we don't have a lot of space backstage for flats or items of furniture. The photograph was scanned in and then made into a slide in Powerpoint. The image can be cropped as you wish and edited in a programme such as Microsoft Photoeditor. The size of the image is controlled by the distance of the projector from the screen. About 6 metres seems to give a balance between image size and brightness. If you are interested in using the masks for your own production, then please order a pack from Sales .

This was one production when the mix of Year groups in the cast actually worked to our advantage. From Mole, who was a Year 7 student , to Badger, who was in Year 12, the combination succeeded. Costume was a key element in suggesting character. Mole has a waistcoat and grandad collar shirt , cord trousers and heavy boots to suggest down to earth dependability. Toad of course needs a flashy waistcoat teamed with Plus Fours which suggests a sort of Bertie Wooster type image. Badger wears a heavy black overcoat with a thick wooly jumper, cords and heavy boots. He is a woodsman, again practical and earthy but with more of an old bachelor quality than Mole. Rat on the other hand needs to be neat and stylish with the obvious nautical touch. A blazer, crisp white shirt which is open at the collar and teamed with a cravat, and well pressed Oxford baggies give a suggestion of elegance. The whole collection needs a turn of the century feel which matches the period as indicated by Toad's car.

I'm not a brilliant choreographer, I wish I was, but I tend to work with large groups using movement and tableaux to suggest mood. Here the Chief Weasel, Ferret and Stoat raise clawed hands as part of a diabolical dance in the Wild Wood. Working in pairs and ranged in a horseshoe behind them, the other weasels, ferrets and stoats create a series of tableaux showing various forms of murder which they vary as the three main figures circle in the centre. The slow pace allowed the audience to take it all in, otherwise it would have been too "busy". The whole scene was lit with cold, steel blue fresnels and a red spotlight in the centre to give focus. Again a scanned photograph of a wood in winter is the main element of setting.

How to present the animals is obviously a key factor. Years ago I worked on "Alice In Wonderland" and on that occasion used water based make-up to paint the animals faces. Not only was this expensive but also extremely time consuming and the quality of the final effect varied according to who did it! For this production, masks seemed to provide the answer but the problem lies in the limitations that a mask can impose. Many masks are too heavy to be practical on stage, or too flimsy to cope with rigorous movement. As "Toad" is a musical, a mask which covered the mouth is unsuitable. Half masks suffer from the problem that human head and features are very different from animals. The solution was to make a mask that sits on top of the actors head. This does not affect vision or voice projection. It allows the actor to use facial expression as required and the image of the animal is clear whilst retaining the human qualities suggested by the original story.

As you can see from this shot, there are times when the actor can drop the head and the mask becomes the main focus.

We tried to give each of the major characters a movement 'signature' which linked with the musical score as at the first entry, a piece was played to introduce them. The horse moves slow and ponderously from the shoulders. Mole scrapes and scrabbles with his arms as he comes up from the earth.Rat rows his way onto the stage and then stands as if on deck, legs apart and hands clasped behind him. Badger moves purposely in a sort of side to side gait and always stands squarely and resolutely. Toad swaggers on and acknowledges the admiring glances of others as he finishes with a twirl and cheeky wave. It is often helpful to build a list of adjectives that describe character and then focus on how these adjectives might be portrayed to the audience.

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