York Theatre Royal – until April 20th 2019
Reviewed by Sara Garner
In the Willows brings Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 classic story of Wind in the Willows straight into the 21st century with a bang.
This version has great fun copying characters and traits from the original and transforms them with caricatures from any typical high school and dresses them with hip-hop street culture. With vibrant energy, engaging music and lyrics and an abundance of colourful costumes to match throughout the whole performance a marriage of hip-hop and musical theatre styles works so well.
The Willows is a senior school in a rough area. Mole (Victoria Boyce) starts a new school, she is struggling to fit in and communicate. Overseeing it all is Badger (Clive Rowe), the kindly teacher who asks streetwise and sassy Ratty (Zara Macintosh), to look after the panicky new kid. Toad (Harry Jardine) is the likeable, flashy kid. The story of Toad moved to the classroom is seamless. They are supported by 3 pink rabbits, a be-spectacled Owl, a very tall Otter and a camp, long-legged Duck decked out in fabulous yellow! We have a band of Weasels who are a street gang lead by their Chief (Matt Knight) in long red coat and beanie. Everyone gets a moment in the limelight and it is difficult to take your eyes off any one of them. Its difficult to single out a particular cast member as everyone produced a stella performance.
The River Bank is the local club and the Wildwood is a broken housing estate. William Reynolds’s set cleverly allows for the familiarity of Badger’s small home and the open spaces needed for the cast to perform the dance-offs and set pieces at The Riverbank youth club. Movement and dance routines are tight and well-choreographed with special lighting effects and slow motion adding theatrical subtleties. Characters set the scenes as part of their performance, thus distracting the audience from possible dull set changes and gaps. You can tell a lot of thought has gone into transferring this classic tale into the 21st Century.
Harry Jardine is cast perfectly as Toad with the right blend of entertainment, warmth and likeability, He raps are on point with Chief Weasel playing the part of the “bad” rapper. Sean Miley Moore is superb as Duck, bringing a lot of energy and sass to his performance.
The characters and situation are modern and at the heart of it, themes of friendship, good conquering bad and respect. If you want to see an old classic re worked into a highly engaging, high energy show with powerfully and emotional singing, hip hop and street dancing, great set design and fantastic choreography then go so In the Willows