London Palladium 29 June – 9 September. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
If you’re looking for an evening of gleeful giddiness and family fun, grab your tickets to The Wind in the Willows while you can. Jamie Hendry has a sure-fire hit on his hands with this superb adaptation of the classic children’s book.
Rat and his new friend Mole enjoy an idyllic life on the riverbank until Mr Toad’s thrill-seeking quest for speed leads to disaster and the rise of the animals from The Wild Wood. While Mr Toad is imprisoned for traffic offences, the Wild Wooders kidnap Portia the otter pup and fatten her up for a feast in their new home, Toad Hall. Can Badger save the day?
With a book by Julian Fellowes and music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, you expect a class act, and this show doesn’t disappoint. The themes of friendship, loyalty and finding joy in simple pleasures are presented by Fellowes with charm and humour. The set and costume design by Peter McKintosh are magical in their simplicity, and create a picture book feel to the whole show, that never be comes garishly cartoonlike. Whether it’s the rolling riverbank with curtains of willow branches or the lurid green façade of Toad Hall, every set is evocative and true to Kenneth Grahame’s book. The various vehicles that Mr Toad uses are spectacularly staged – cars, caravan, barge, and the steam train chase is a glorious nod to the Keystone cops. The costumes are gorgeous – with each family of animals wearing identical, very British, clothes and having just simple ears and tails attached to hats, wigs and trousers. The rabbits are all in tweed, the field mice in duffel coats, the foxes are dressed as huntsmen, and the hedgehogs! The hedgehogs are simply brilliant – they must be seen to be believed. And then there’s the pony… It is all homespun yet expertly slick at the same time, and fits the spirit of the story wonderfully.
The musical numbers are all top-notch, with the passing seasons being marked by songs sung by different animals, and the high-octane numbers matching clever and witty lyrics with clever and witty choreography. The Wild Wooders’ choreography is particularly impressive, full of sinister humour and menace. The big production numbers sweep you away on a rush of euphoria – The Greatest Great Escape is spectacular – but the gentler, simple songs are the ones that I’ve been humming. A Place To Come Back To, where Mole sings of the simple pleasures of his humble home, and The Hedgehog’s Nightmare, where a road crossing is attempted are brilliantly written and performed.
The entire cast give amazing performances – both vocal and comic. Rufus Hound was born to play Mr Toad – prancing around like an exuberant and exasperating puppy in a fantastic green wig and glasses, he has the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he appears on stage – a phenomenal performance. Simon Lipkin as Rat and Craig Mather as Mole are equally impressive in their less showy roles – Lipkin making the most of Rat’s sarcastic lines and Mather delivering Mole’s socially naïve un-PC pronouncements with a wonderful wide-eyed innocence – and their voices! Neil McDermott is almost unrecognisable as the zoot suited Chief Weasel – channelling Russel Brand and a young Arthur Daley to deliver a hysterically villainous performance.
The Wind in the Willows is fantastic fun for all ages, a visual and musical treat that is full of warmth, wit and dizzying daftness. Get down to the Palladium at top speed. Poop Poop!