The Wind in The Willows Review

Rating: ****

Reviewed at: The London Palladium

The classic Kenneth Grahame story of Ratty, Mole and Mr Toad bursts onto the London Palladium stage with a new lease of life as a musical. The award-winning team behind Disney’s Mary Poppins and the current West End smash Half A Sixpence reunites to once again work their magic.

The tale of Mr Toad, who has a need for speed and is a bit out of control. He loses Toad Hall and it’s up to Ratty, Mole, and Badger to help save the day. It’s a real tale of true friendship and is truly uplifting and pure escapism.

Craig Mather and Simon Lipkin
Craig Mather (Mole) and Simon Lipkin (Ratty) “Messing About In A Boat”.

The work that Julian Fellowes has done is superb, making a story that’s well-known and beloved feel fresh and like you’re being told the story for the first time. The work that George Stiles and Anthony Drewe do with music is incredible, everything of there’s is just brilliant and this production is another fine example of their talents. There is a varied style of music, including Mr Toad rapping and it all works so well giving the characters a bit of identity through music. Stand out songs for me are, “The Amazing Mr Toad”, “A Friend Is Still A Friend”, “We’re Taking Over The Hall” and my personal favourite “The Wild Wooders. Everything that Stiles and Drewe seem to touch turns to gold.

Using the Palladium’s vast space the set is huge and beautiful. Whether it be at the river with Ratty on the boat, or Toad Hall itself. The show’s designer Peter McKintosh has done an excellent job. The number “The Greatest Great Escape” showcases this brilliantly when there’s even a train on stage. There are numerous clever moments but I particularly enjoyed in “The Amazing Mr Toad” how they assemble the motor car in bits. Lighting and sound are superb here too really adding to the piece. Credit to Howard Harrison (lighting) and Gareth Owen (sound) for this.

Ensemble, Simon Lipkin and Craig Mather
Mole’s home.

Along with the fabulous sets, you have fantastic costumes that really bring the animals to life. From the eccentric outfits, Mr Toad wears to the cute hedgehogs. These are visually great to look at and have been cleverly thought through. It could easily look cheap or tacky but this certainly does not. Peter McIntosh’s designs along with Linda McKnight’s makeup and wig design really add to the visual impact of the performance.

The cast that has been assembled is first rate, with some of the cast members continuing it the show from its run at the Theatre Royal Plymouth last year. Rufus Hound is truly excellent throughout as the eccentric madcap Mr Toad. His energy is superb and he just has a glint in his eye throughout, he performs so well. Everything I’ve seen Rufus in thus far (One Man Two Guvnors, Don Quixote, and What The Butler Saw) has been top class and his Mr Toad may be his best work yet.

Willows DRESS-2290 Marc Brenner
Rufus Hound (Mr Toad).

Simon Lipkin’s Ratty is excellent, he is another performer who whatever role he’s doing is superb. You are drawn to him every time he’s on the stage. His relationship with Craig Mather as Mole is a joy. They both work together superbly well and they really bring out the friendship of the two characters. They make the number “Messing About In A Boat” really uplifting. Mather himself as Mole is a joy. His smile and charm and his vocal quality especially him number lamenting his desire simplicity and home “A Place to Come Back To” is fantastic.

There is great support from Gary Wilmot’s Badger, his stern military air keeps Mr Toad in line (as much as possible). Neil McDermott’s Chief Weasel is strong-voiced and villainous manner is really enjoyable. Denise Welch’s Mrs Otter, constantly on the lookout for her daughter, Portia, who is constantly running off, is sweet and she comes across as a mother you’d like to have. Emilie De Leslay brings a lovely cuteness to Portia’s adventurous nature. I also really enjoyed Natalie Woods as the horse, she really made this character stand out. Throughout the ensemble each cast member get’s a little moment to shine and they are all excellent.

Willows DRESS-1082 Marc Brenner
Neil McDermott (Chief Weasel) and Company.

Whilst this may not be the greatest musical, it’s a really charming and uplifting couple of hours and through Rachel Kavanagh’s direction, the show is in safe hands. I can’t agree with what the real critic’s reviews say as I think it’s a lot better than they give it credit for. It’s a wonderful family show and one that will really engage audience members of all ages.

The performance I attended was an audience mixed between large groups of school children to older members of society seem to come together for 2 and a bit hours of lovely entertainment. As the gentleman two seats down leaned in and said to the musical director at the interval “the world needs this right now” and that couldn’t be apter. It’s brilliant escapism from the real world and you’ll leave with a smile on your face, extra speed in your step and you’ll be shouting “Poop Poop” for days!

Craig Mather, Emilie du Leslay, Denise Welch and Ensemble
The company of Wind in the Willows.

I must mention that during the second act of the afternoon performance I attended there was a technical fault which meant the show had to be stopped for around 20 minutes. After a few moments of this, Rufus Hound came onto the stage, in character and entertained the audience. The audience was full of school children who’d come in their classes and the way Rufus interacted with the audience showed off his talents. He did competitions of which section could make the most noise, led a sing-along of one of the songs from the ultimately meant that the kids were entertained during the stop rather than becoming restless and noisy.

The Wind and The Willows runs at the London Palladium across the summer until September 9th, 2017. For more information and booking details click here. They are running a great initiative offering one free child ticket with every adult ticket, a great way to make it affordable to families, for details about this offer, click here.



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