Celebrating 28 years in the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, The Australian Shakespeare Company is once again providing families with a lovely afternoon in the park, hosted by the Head Chief Rabbit and his spritely friends.

Before you consider taking the kids to a cinema these Summer holidays, consider the following comparison. Standing in a 15 minute-long queue for overpriced popcorn and choc-tops, followed by being stuffed into a dark, smelly cinema staring at 20 minutes of mind-numbing advertisements (sounds like fun to me!).

Now consider the beautiful alternative: A sunny afternoon, a picnic filled with enough food to feed the family for a week (it’s ok, we all do it), the serene surroundings of the Royal Botanic Gardens and most of all, providing your family with the truly magical experience of watching live theatre.

The Wind in the Willows is so much more than ‘just’ a children’s show; it is a truly rare and beautiful experience for the whole family. We live in an age where kids are practically born holding a game controller and a smart phone. Sunday night roasts are almost a thing of the past and the idea of going out for a family picnic or (start saving) taking the whole family to see some live theatre, is almost a ‘olden-days tradition’. What the Australian Shakespeare Company offer every Summer is an affordable, accessible and unique way to allow families to combine the park, the picnic and theatre, all in the space of an hour and a half.

Head Chief Rabbit: Roscoe Mathers; Toad: Ryan Hawke; Rat: Leigh Piper

Head Chief Rabbit: Roscoe Mathers; Toad: Ryan Hawke; Rat: Leigh Piper

Willows is, in short, wonderful. The characters burst out of the bushes (and the river!) sporting spectacular costumes and facepaint, (all credit to Karla Erenbots and Melanie Ranken respectively) abounding with contagious enthusiasm and excitement as they plan their adventure to Toad Hall.

I found myself surrounded by children completely drawn into a world of song and dance as they devoured their favourite snacks (food and live entertainment – a babysitters dream). Leading the adventure was the oh-so-charming Head Chief Rabbit (Roscoe Mathers). A true master of ceremonies, Mathers is both endearing and engaging for both the children and their accompanying adults. Of particular note, Otter (Chris Southall) and Toad (Ryan Hawke) had the audience totally fixated whenever they appeared, mastering the tricky task of performing in an open-air space over the sounds of childish chatter and crinkling crisp packets.

I cannot recommend this production enough. Children need to be exposed to as much live theatre as possible and this is a fantastic and affordable opportunity to do so. Wind in the Willows is running in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne and Sydney until the 23rd of January. Grab your tickets; grab your picnic basket and go.

Tickets: http://www.shakespeareaustralia.com.au/the-wind-in-the-willows.html