Palladium, London – until 9 September 2017
Wind In the Willows is one of my favourite childhood stories and a refreshingly new musical take on the story hasn’t gone amiss. so thanks to Julian Fellowes, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe there’s a spanking brand new musical at the London Palladium and it’s simply sensational. All of the well-known characters are there and they have catchy, toe-tapping musical numbers to accompany their travels as they strive to contain their bumptious, over-bearing mate, Mr Toad.
The popular plot which revolves around Mr Toad’s obsession with having to have the next big thing in his possession without a thought for others. Ratty, Mole and Badger endeavour to bring the vagrant amphibian to order with weasels, stoats and foxes attempting to foil them at every turn. A classic tale of good triumphing over evil and the solidarity of good friends.
The set which worked superbly on the Palladium stage drew me in from the outset, as far as I was concerned, I was watching the action from the river bank, the wild wood and from outside Toad Hall. The motor cars used were incredible, all attention to detail had been carefully adhered to and it was quite something to watch Toad’s first car undergoing construction during the vibrant number ‘The Amazing Mr Toad’. The interior of Badger’s house was mesmerising, I felt that I needed eyes everywhere to fully appreciate how intricate it appeared to be.
My personal highlights from the score include ‘One Swallow Does Not A Summer Make’, ‘The Wild Wooders’ and ‘We’re Taking Over The Hall’ has to be my overall favourite. Aletta Collins’ choreography was stunningly effective, enabling characterisation to be combined effortlessly. The fight choreography shone too, thanks to the direction of Kate Waters.
Neil McDermott plays Chief Weasel as sumptuously sinister and conniving – there’s just enough comedy in there to redeem the role. He’s really quite the epitome of evil as he takes off with the otter pup, Portia (Emilie Du Leslay) to fatten up for his lunch, while her usually ever-present mum, Mrs Otter (Denise Welch) fears the worst, quite rightly. Gary Wilmot never fails to impress me, he is such a wondrous musical theatre performer, in my opinion, that the role of Badger could not be better cast. His vocal ability remains as extraordinary as ever and he offers the solid stability that the role commands. Simon Lipkin as Rat and Craig Mather as Mole make for a duo de force, they make the perfect pair of pals and Lipkin in particular brings great sarcasm to the role of Ratty… especially during their duet ‘Messing About In A Boat’. They also dealt with a props mishap marvellously! Mentions must also go to Natalie Woods (whom I was already familiar with from her appearance in Gypsy) as the tap dancing horse and Jenna Boyd as both Mrs Hedgehog and Gaoler’s daughter, what an incredible voice! Plus Evan James as Bucky the Rabbit, he stole almost every scene for me, what a cheeky little turn. What if Mr Toad? Well, Rufus Hound was indisposed, unfortunately, but what we were treated to in his place was an understudy performance so astonishing that at times I wondered if Mr Hound had walked on and we hadn’t been made aware. Kudos to Chris Aukett, big shoes to step into and yet he poop pooped with gusto and made the role his own.
If you’ve never seen Wind In the Willows, you couldn’t wish for a more zany, exuberant version to introduce you to the classic story. Enough of the original tale remains while the new take on the masterpiece adds a new dimension which in turn transforms this glorious show into a masterpiece in its own right. Grab a ticket now, you’ll feel poop pooped if you don’t!