The London Palladium is once again the home of classic family entertainment, with the arrival of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, following a short UK tour. This modern update to the time-honoured tale, from Julian Fellowes, remains remarkably faithful to Grahame’s original work, even including some side plots often omitted from adaptations. The addition of a buoyant score and increased sense of adventure, makes for an engaging musical comedy caper.
All of the favourite characters are there; Rat, Mole, Badger and of course Toad of Toad Hall. While Rat and Mole are happy just messing about in a boat, the impetuous Toad yearns for each new fad that comes along, and the arrival of the motorcar gives him a thirst for speed. He gets himself into quite a spot of bother and it’s down to his faithful band of friends to save him, and help him reclaim Toad Hall from the stoats and weasels.
Rufus Hound bounds around the stage with childlike enthusiasm that delights and enthrals the audience in equal measure. Gary Wilmott brings his wealth of stage experience to the esteemed character of Badger, while Denise Welch injects a fresh and bold look to Mrs Otter. Neil McDermott and Joshua Gannon display just the right mix of comedy villainy, with the latter displaying some impressive dance moves.
The real highlight from the cast is Craig Mather as Mole and Simon Lipkin as Rat, who have an undeniable chemistry together, Kenneth Grahame may have struggled to understand the term, but what we see on stage is the most wonderful of bromances.
Some parts feel a little slow, in line with Grahame’s original writing, on stage that’s harder to work around. Yet, The Wind in the Willows has a playful and rousing score from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, which keeps the audience engaged. It really is a delightful score, with “The Wild Wooders” and “A Friend is Still a Friend” being particularly strong.
Peter McKintosh’s costumes are just right, with all but one or two exceptions there is little doubt as to which animal each character is supposed to be, but the actors are thankfully not burdened with over the top outfits which could have easily distracted from the performances. The sets are bright and colourful, evoking a real sense of the English countryside in all seasons.
The Wind in the Willows brings a family favourite vividly to life while remaining faithful to the original and it’s refreshing to hear a real mix of regional accents together on a London stage. The score and staging combined with on stage chemistry makes this a production sure to be a hit with audiences, whatever their age and it would be advisable to secure tickets…fast!