Ratty and Mole and Badger and Toad. If the sound of those names read together warms your heart, then you’re in for a treat. The Wind in the Willows is back on stage in a brand new musical, and it’s a delight from start to finish.
I’ve read a few stiff and cheerless reviews so far, describing the show as ‘twee’ and politically incorrect… even comparing Mr Toad to the likes of Boris Johnson. Actually, there’s a sprinkling of truth in the latter! However, I’m not sure imposing a 2017 slant on a children’s tale written in 1908 does justice to either perspective.
Taken on its own terms, The Wind in the Willows musical is buoyant in every sense. The soundtrack, sets, costumes and calibre of talent behind the show totally swept me away. Aside from a few tweaks (Otter is now Mrs Otter, played by Denise Welch), it’s a seamless adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s novel. The brilliant Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey, Gosford Park) wrote the book, while award-winning lyricist and composer duo George Stiles and Anthony Drewe handle the score.
In case you haven’t read it, The Wind in the Willows follows a group of animals whose peaceful life by the river bank is thrown into chaos by speed freak, Mr Toad.
Toad’s obsession with the shiniest, fastest new toys soon puts him in hot water. However, there’s a greater threat at large in the form of weasels, stoats and foxes in the wild wood. When the outlaws take over Toad Hall, it’s up to his mates Mole, Ratty, Badger and Mrs Otter to save the day.
The irrepressible Rufus Hound seems excellently cast as Mr Toad. Unfortunately, he was down with a throat infection on press night. So we saw understudy Chris Aukett who pulls off Toad’s madcap energy convincingly (and looks a bit like Mr Hound too)!
It’s clear the cast are having a blast, even Gary Wilmot as a rather stern Badger. Neil McDermott sinks his teeth into the role of Chief Weasel. Craig Mather as Mole is sweet as anything, and Simon Lipkin (Ratty) nearly steals the spotlight from Toad.
Ultimately, it’s the music that won me over. With choral interludes, Gilbert & Sullivan style numbers, and even a bit of rap thrown in, there’s something for everyone. Yet it all maintains a distinctly British sound. Songs like ‘A Friend is Still a Friend’ are instantly catchy. I found myself singing along as if I’d known them forever.
The Wind in the Willows is a joyous summer musical and Kids go Free (see details below). So why not take your favourite youngster for a rip-roaring ride back in time with Toad and the gang? Poop poop!
The Wind in the Willows Musical is playing at London Palladium, Argyll Street, Westminster, London W1F 7TF (Oxford Circus/Bond St tube) for audiences ages 5+. Shows at 7pm (Mon), 7.30pm (Tue-Sat) & 2.30pm (Tue & Sat); tickets from adult £15, 1 child FREE with every paying adult + up to 2 additional children (16 and under) at half price (until Sep 9)