Taking residency at the London Palladium this summer is George and Stiles’ imaginative new musical Wind in the Willows. Based on all the characters we know and love from the story books, their stories are well and truly brought to life in this exceptionally colourful production.
When Mole and Ratty stumble upon each other, instantly becoming best friends, Ratty soon discovers Mole’s intrigue towards the ‘no-go’ area of the Willow. When he ventures over to the dark side with Ratty by his side, Mole meets Mr Toad – a charismatic but rather self-centered character that owns the lavish Toad hall. Together with their friend Badger, they embark on a series of tumultuous adventures and of course Toad manages to get himself stuck in a spot of trouble.
Scored by Stiles and Drew, who are well-known for their brilliant adaptations of the Half a Sixpence and Mary Poppins score, and of course the excellently funny Betty Blue Eyes. The music in the show is brilliantly bright and catchy, and the wonderful score is complimented superbly by the cast. The opening number Spring is vocally powerful and bursting with remarkable harmonies, which sound continuously beautiful throughout the show. The score is quintessentially British with a marvellous contemporary twist.
The London Palladium hosts the perfect setting for this vibrant and dynamic musical. The set is outstanding, and paired with the lighting the production manages to capture every different nook and cranny of the Willow, whether it be a river, the grassy hills or Mr Toad’s extravagant home. Every inch of the stage has been designed intricately and the design strikes the perfect balance and is not overbearing in the slightest as it creates a visual feast for the eyes with all of the colour. The slick transition of rowing boats, open-topped sports cars and even a steam train is impressive. As the ensemble take on numerous roles as the animals in the Willow, the costumes are sensationally sweet and each character is well thought-out, making you invested in each animal’s story. This ensemble of animals bring tremendous energy and animated facial expressions. Although the first half feels a little slow, the pace quickly picks up and I found myself continually wowed by the strength of each musical number, and I left the theatre humming the tunes from the show.
Leading the production is Craig Mather as Mole, who displays the charming and humble character bursting with determination well. His intimate friendship with Simon Lipkin playing Rat is heart-warming, which is displayed in their opening duet Messing About In A Boat, a really endearing moment in the show. Along the way they meet Badger, played by Gary Wilmot, the intelligently charismatic character provides a wise maturity to the friendship as he guides them along the way.
Rufus Hound leaps around sporting a bright green moustache and wig, bringing a huge amount of personality to the production. With his regular catchphrase ‘poop poop’ he creates an abundance of laughs with his loud character. Hound’s energy is infectious from the very moment he steps on stage, everything about his stage presence is completely commanding.
I saw Denise Welch’s understudy Jenna Boyd as Mrs Otter and she was exceptional. The character that has been adapted to be a woman, which I admire, and it’s a wonderful feminine touch on the show. Her motherly nature brings a sense of warmth to the musical, not to mention her stellar vocals which are an absolute delight.
Wind in the Willows is a fantastic British family show that boasts impressive production values, and an incredibly talented cast. It is the perfect introductory piece of musical theatre for youngsters, but will be adored by all ages.
On at the London Palladium for a limited run until the 2nd of September, details can be found here.