Writer: Julian Fellowes
Composer: George Styles
Lyricist: Anthony Drewe
Director: Rachel Kavanaugh
Reviewer: Tom Finch
Based on the classic novel by Kenneth Grahame, a new musical adaptation of The Wind in the Willows has opened in the West End for a Summer run. Sticking faithfully to the original source material the show follows Ratty, Moley and Badger as they attempt to save their friend insufferable friend Mr Toad from himself and his passion for anything with wheels.
There are some stories that naturally lend themselves to musical adaptation but this tale of four animals by the riverbank seems to resist it at every turn. The episodic structure means there is no real overall arc and instead each scene feels like another in a series of loosely related events rather than being part of a true plot. Thus, the pace drags almost from the offset with the second act being almost glacial.
It doesn’t help that Julian Fellowes’ book is mercilessly bereft of gags. By retaining the original quintessentially twee vibe the whole thing feels unbearably dated. George Styles’ and Anthony Drewe’s score is instantly forgettable. The songs, rather than advancing the paper thin plot instead seriously impede it.
Rufus Hound as Mr Toad throws himself around the stage and does sink his teeth into the role; however, he does little to make the speed-obsessed amphibian likeable and as such by the end of the evening one almost hopes that the next car crash he has will finish him off. Denise Welch as Mrs Otter seems out of her depth vocally.
The real star of the show is London’s hardest working jobbing actor Simon Lipkin, who plays Rat. He works against the painfully dull script to find some laughs, most of which appear to be ad-libbed. His voice is in fine shape as well.
Peter McKintosh’s costumes and sets do a good job of distinguishing the rabbits from the hedgehogs and his set made up largely of wooden hills transport the audience to the simpler world of the countryside of yesteryear.
Theatre for young people is very strong at the moment with some brilliantly fun and engaging modern shows for the whole family. This offering feels about 40 years too late, aimed at grandparents rather than grandchildren. Not without its charms but it harks back to a different era and reminds us how far storytelling has come.
Runs until 9 September 2017 | Image: Darren Bell