At the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven, Tim Howe is excited. 

“It’s quite an adventure for us,” he says of the new production Wind in the Willows, based on the novel by Kenneth Graham.

“It’s been quite a while since the Torch has done a full Youth Theatre production. We’ve been doing a bit of research on it; we think it might be over a decade.”

There’s a cast of just over 40, but they’ll only come together once before their first dress rehearsal - on the same day as their evening performance!

“We know they’ll be brilliant at it - they like that it’s got an extra challenge… It encourages the younger children to think ‘we’ve got to be really good’.”

Tim promises the show will have the same weight as any other production would when it gets on that main stage.

“We’re throwing all the bells and whistles at it.

“We’re very lucky to have our in-house choir, the Torch Voices, recording some songs that they’ve been working on that we’ll use to underscore the action.

Tim, who started in January last year, came from the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff and has always worked with young people. The same is true for the theatre’s Artistic Director Chelsey.

But Wind in the Willows is Tim’s ‘baby’; he’s the director.

Chelsey and Tim got together and realised that as a producing theatre - and one of only three in Wales that can do everything in-house - they should be taking advantage of that for their young people.

“We were aware of other groups in the area that do amazing work, but I think for us it was about trying to bring what we’re doing with our young people in the Youth Theatre more in line with what Chelsey is doing with the professionals.”

Has Tim seen any budding professionals in the cast?

“Oh yeah, absolutely. The young man who’s playing toad - it’s what he wants to do, and there’s a couple of others.

“I think what I love most about our young people though is: that’s not the reason they come, necessarily. They get to hang out with their friends… they spend an hour being creative and a bit silly and meeting adults in a very different way to how they meet adults in school.

“The thing that I enjoyed most when I was growing up and went to youth theatres was it was like finding my tribe. When you’re that age you constantly reinvent yourself, and that’s where I felt safest to be who I thought I was. What I try to do is give our young people that same experience.

“As much as creating the art is very important, for me the grand thing is: are they better humans? Can they socialise better; can they talk about how they feel, what they think about the world?

Hopefully people will see that in the production: that we celebrate all the individuals... it gives them all a space to be themselves within the world of the play.”

What Tim likes about Wind in the Willows is it does all those things anyway; it’s about friendship, and this particular version breaks groups like weasels and stoats down into individual personalities.

“We just go: ‘that’s your personality, so you’re going to have that line’.

“Then with the oldest group (15-18 year olds) we go even more extreme and we make them cast it, so we give them a voting card with everyone’s names in it and all the characters and they just have to decide who it is.”

In this way, Neurodiversity thrives.

“Double the national average of our young people have some kind of access needs, particularly around neurodiversity, so we end up making a lot of space for them and that’s why we’re going: ‘whatever you want to do is what we’re going to help you to do.’”

Tim gave the example of a young person who gets quite anxious about feeling like they’re being laughed at - or doing something that’s nasty - that makes people think they’re nasty, so it opens up a whole world of conversations.

“The young people came up with a set of rules that we operate the room by, and one of them is celebrating others’ differences.

“Even the eight-year-olds are very good at self-policing that and saying: Oh, I know you’re not going to like that, so shall I take that line instead?

“That creates a space where even if they’re anxious or worried, we’re able to support them, but then they’re all supporting each other as well. There’s lots of physical and mental handholding by the group, and to me that’s more important than anything else, that they’re growing that resilience within themselves.

“Every child is different, but they will all tell us now what is making them worried or anxious, and what is making them upset, so we can solve it.”

Everything you’d expect in Wind in the Willows is there. 

Tim says it’s going to be fun, fast and energetic. Dan, as Toad, has taken inspiration from Rick Mayall’s Lord Flashheart. 

“It really moves along and people are going to have a great night out in the theatre. But underneath it, the story remains the same, about friendship and love, and finding your space in the world, understanding and celebrating difference.

“As much as we have these crazy big moments where Toad is being bombastic, we also have these quiet, reflective moments when Mole, Ratty and Badger hear panpipes in the wood and think about their place in the world.

“If you go back to the original book, there’s a lot of gentleness but it’s also kind of melancholic. You feel like: this time will pass. 

“And then of course you have weasels and ferrets and stoats running around everywhere with tennis rackets and pots and pans and getting merrily drunk on diet Coke, so it’s very fun.”

Catch Wind in the Willows from Monday to Wednesday July 22-24, with each day’s performance starting at 6.30pm. Visit or call 01646 695267.

This August, Adult Summer School returns to the Torch.

Tim and Chelsey will run the school on four Thursday evenings: August 8, 15, 22 and 29, 6.30-9pm; a great opportunity for adults to get creative and meet like-minded people. 

“Then on the August 31, we’ll have a showcase performance,” added Tim. “Whatever they’ve created, we’ll put in our studios and share it.”

Some people come to the summer school as writers, some as performers, others budding directors. It can be a launchpad for further involvement with the theatre. Professional actress from Mexico Marcela, who came last summer, played the French maid in Private Lives and is an assistant director for Wind in the Willows.

Tim said: “We don’t really have an aim, it’s just to be creative and make something that is about the people in the room. We want to make a space where people can primarily skill-build.

“[last summer] was a really joyful time and I want more people to experience it. Effectively, whoever signs up, we will shape the whole thing to them. Chelsey and I prefer that approach anyway because there’s nothing more exciting than the people in the room and what they want to do.”