THE eagerly-awaited new musical version of The Wind in the Willows, scripted by Julian Fellowes with music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, opened in Plymouth on 8th October for a two-week run before touring to Southampton and Salford Quays.
Rachel Kavanaugh’s sparkling production, choreographed by Aletta Collins and designed by Peter McKintosh, opens as Mole meets Ratty by the riverbank. Spring is springing, the animals are gathering and the stage is set for adventure.
This is certainly a show for all the family, full of colour and action and excitement as the new friends encounter Toad at his toadiest, Badger at his most authoritarian, the otters fighting for survival and the weasels, stoats and foxes of the Wild Wood – republicans to an animal, looking to take over.
I don’t know if the killer couplets were the idea of Julian Fellowes or Anthony Drewe – rhyming gudgeon and curmudgeon is a shining example.
At each of the three (first?) venues, a team of eight local children has been enlisted, and they do much more than fill the spaces. As tiny hedgehogs, a pair of them brought the house down.
The story is well known, and very well told, with a cast of dancing, sining actors who inhabit Kenneth Grahame’s beloved characters. Rufus Hound (who really should be red/ brown) is a spectacularly green Toad, full of bombast and ego and enthusiasm. As Mr Farage was unavailable for the role, I don’t think Rufus could be bettered.
Thomas Howes’s lovely Ratty and Fra Fee’s nervous Mole are easily commanded by David Birrell’s sonorous Badger.
The “new” main character, Mrs Otter, (Sophia Nomvete) is a feisty, plucky and devoted mother, constantly worried about her “teenage” daughter Portia … and not without reason.
Neil McDermott leads the flashy weasels, all sharp suits and jerky moves as they lurk in the wood waiting for the main chance.
I missed Albert the Horse, whose replacement by two tap-dancing equine caravan-pullers didn’t really fill the morosity gap.
Toby Higgins conducts a terrific orchestra, called on to play a wide variety of music for which George Stiles has drawn on a century of musical inspiration.
This Wind in the Willows is full of charm and spectacle, clever lyrics and varied tunes. It’s at Plymouth until Saturday 22nd, and at Southampton Mayflower from 10th to 20th November.