Review Roundup: THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS in the West End
The new West End musical The Wind in the Willows features Rufus Hound as the amazing MR Toad, Simon Lipkin as Ratty, Craig Mather as Mole, Neil McDermott as Chief Weasel, with Denise Welch as Mrs Otter and Gary Wilmotas Badger. The show is currently playing at the London Palladium.
Based on Kenneth Grahame's treasured novel which has captivated generations of readers for over a century, The Wind in the Willows has been adapted for the stage with a book by Academy Award-winning screenwriter and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes and Olivier Award-winning composer and lyricist duo George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
This riotous comedy follows the impulsive MR Toad whose insatiable need for speed lands him in serious trouble. With his beloved home under threat from the notorious Chief Weasel and his gang of sinister Wild Wooders, Toad must attempt a daring escape leading to a series of misadventures and a heroic battle to recapture Toad Hall.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Debbie Gilpin, BroadwayWorld: My first impression is that it's rather long for a family show - and not a lot actually happens in that time! It takes around an hour to set the scene and introduce the characters, then the rest feels quite hurried as they try to contrive a resolution. The cast is quite large; it's almost as if the creative team have tried to create a bigger part for them all, but this comes at the cost of a focused storyline. In fact, Fellowes should give children more credit in their ability to follow a plot, rather than giving them a series of sketches.
Michael Billington, Guardian: It's one of those pieces of theatre that passes the time innocently but, at today's prices, I'm not sure that is enough. The book may be susceptible to many different readings but here you feel it has been adapted with professional commitment rather than reimagined with personal passion.
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard: Fellowes introduces a few topical notes - Toad is a capitalist landowner, an object of loathing for the marauding weasels who declare that 'Property is theft'. Yet at root this is a nostalgic celebration of rural life and the rewards of friendship. Rachel Kavanaugh's production, though picturesque and deftly choreographed, is slow to exert any grip. It's bland and more than a little twee.
David Finkle, Huffington Post: For the sophisticated author of Downton Abbey and Gosford Park he's been shockingly witless and charmless in his retelling of Mr. Toad's misadventures and how Rat (the funny Simon Lipkin), Mole (the cute Craig Mather), Mrs. Otter (the perky Denise Welch) and Badger (the authoritative Gary Wilmot) outwit Chief Weasel (the hyperactive Neil McDermott) succeed as thy go collectively about saving their impulsive, speed-loving friend from troubles he's gotten himself in.
Dominic Cavendish, Telegraph: There's only so much Edwardian innocence, as expressed through the power of song, that man, woman or child can take, and I felt I'd had my fill of it by the end of the first of 20 numbers. Fellowes's book, slight to say the least, need only really have characters saying "I feel another song coming on". On and on they come.
Tim Bano, The Stage: The problem is, Toad is meant to be the symbol of detachment from mother earth: his love of chrome and of extraordinary speed an affront to the natural balance of the river bank. But, in its clean aesthetic, in its inoffensive, almost humourless book, in its unenlightening songs, the whole production feels a world away from anything remotely pastoral and, as a consequence, it's all rather bland.
David Bendict, The Arts Desk: An enormous amount rides on a musical's opening number. Without explicitly expressing it, a good opener sets tone, mood and style. Take The Lion King, where "Circle of Life" so thrillingly unites music, design, and direction that nothing that follows equals it. "Spring", the opener of The Wind in the Willows, repeatedly announces the warmth of the season, and precious little else. Animals dance perkily, but with nothing to dance about, the flatly staged song goes nowhere. Sadder still, the second song, "Messing About In A Boat", compounds the felony, stating the happiness of the title and the instant friendship of its characters, and repeats. This inertia, alas, is a sign of things to come.