To adapt the lament of Withnail and I’s Uncle Monty: “It is the most shattering experience of a young man’s life when one morning he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself ‘I will never play the Mole.’”. Fortunately for this young actor, that tragic moment will never come. In just under two weeks’ time, I will take to the stage to embody literature’s most famous subterranean rodent in a new production of Wind in the Willows.
The mole had an illustrious history, even before Kenneth Grahame launched it to international fame. Loyal Jacobites toasted the “little gentleman in black velvet” after every meal as their hated enemy King William III died after his horse stumbled on a mole hill, throwing the king to the ground.
As a newcomer to the Oxford theatre scene (save an undistinguished stint as ‘attendant’ in A Man for All Seasons), I was little prepared for the whirlwind life of a thespian. I had dreamed of fame, fortune, and hoards of admiring fans. The reality is somewhat less glamorous. Valuable hours that should be spent cramming for essays are spent in rehearsals or learning lines. The part also elicits remarks from friends like “so you’re playing a mole, yeah I can totally see that!” Are these comments positive assessments of my method acting skills? Or should I be concerned about the implied similarity between me and a rodent?
My forays into method acting have been markedly unsuccessful. Daniel Day-Lewis I am not. Heading out into Uni Parks to build mole hills resulted only in the ire of the gardeners. My diet of grubs and weevils caused an unhappy night of projectile vomiting. The final straw came when I found myself chased out of a field by a local farmer threatening to shoot me and hang me from a gate post.
There is nothing like a good script to make an actor’s life easy. Shakespeare famously gives his actors a helping hand with the rhythms of his iambic pentameter. Unfortunately Britain’s greatest poet was unavailable to write this adaptation of The Wind in the Willows. However, Stephen Hyde, the ‘Bard of Merton’, has produced an excellent script that brings out all the subtle emotional complexities of the famously psychologically intense rodent.
Will my efforts to embody this iconic character end in success? Will I single-handedly destroy the century long legacy of one of the best loved creations of children’s literature? Find out in the Master’s garden of St Peter’s college this 5th week!
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