London Palladium, London – until
The beloved story is charmingly brought to life thanks to Rachel Kavanaugh’s wonderfully entertaining production that will delight children and adults. Based on Kenneth Grahame’s beloved story, this new musical adaptation featuring music and lyrics by Anthony Drewe and George Stiles, has plenty of heart and endearing performances to provide gentle entertainment at the London Palladium.
Following the antics of Mr Toad of Toad Hall, The Wind in the Willows is a story about friendship and loyalty – seeing Rat, Mole and Badger standing with the boisterous Toad despite everything he does and all his crazes including motorcars. It is a message that perhaps we could all use to remember during these times of political turbulence.
The book for the musical, written by Julian Fellowes, is faithful to the original story and characters that have become so beloved, while managing to capture the British spirit and charm that came through so vividly in Grahame’s words. While perhaps lacking slightly in out-loud laughs (feels as though could have done so much more with Toad), it is charming and gentle to watch the story and Toad’s rise and fall unfolding.
This is enhanced by the family friendly set and costume designs by Peter Mckintosh. The set is not particularly lavish and leaves some scenes feeling slightly bare – including the Wild Woods scene but there are still some effective scene changes such as the river bank arriving and disappearing when Rat and Mole are ‘Messing Around in a Boat’ for example. The costumes meanwhile are extremely imaginative in the way they show off the individual animals – the hedgehogs particularly bring a smile to the audience’s face.
So what of the music? Admittedly this was a slight concern going into the show, but there are some real gems from Anthony Drewe and George Stiles, that really capture the British countryside such as ‘Spring’ and ‘Messing About in a Boat’. The songs are for the most part gentle and heartfelt like the lovely ‘A Place to Come Back To’ that won’t fail to charm audiences. But it is when things become more lively that perhaps musically it struggles – particularly ‘The Amazing Mr Toad’ while matching the character well, almost feels too flamboyant to fit in with the rest of the show.
The production does feature many endearing performances, not least from Craig Mather’s gentle hearted but courageous Mole,working well with Simon Lipkin’s Rat who is equally charming if more reluctant to help Toad. Both performances are really lovely and suggest a real bond of friendship. Denise Welch and Gary Wilmot are excellent support – if slightly underused in places. What of the fantastic Mr Toad? Unfortunately Rufus Hound was suffering from a throat infection so was unable to perform, but Chris Aukett did an excellent job of ensuring that Mr Toad was as lively as ever – without going too over the top. his childlike mannerisms, did bring the character of the book fully to life and brings a smile to the audience’s face.
Overall, putting everything together this feels like a proper and faithful vision of Grahame’s work that has plenty to offer those who know the book and for those coming into it completely new. It is gentle and endearing entertainment, perfect viewing for the summer months.