After a break, The Show Must Go Online scheme is back bringing archive recordings of live theatre into our homes on a weekly basis. As a special treat for the Half Term holidays, this week’s offering went live on YouTube in a midweek slot, and the 2017 production of The Wind in the Willows is perfect family entertainment for the holidays. If you look back at your own childhood, I am sure that many of us can remember finding the story of Ratty, Moley, the somewhat uncontrollable Mr Toad and their many adventures on the riverbank. The Wind in the Willows is a classic tale of friendship, full of heart and many a throwback to simpler times as the various woodland creatures unite against the wicked wild wooders, lead by the vile Chief Weasel, all whilst trying to control Mr Toad and his obsession with speedy new inventions.
Filmed live at the world famous London Palladium in the summer of 2017, The Wind in the Willows boasted an incredible star studded cast that brought the much loved characters to life with bundles of energy and oodles of joy. Comedian Rufus Hound shines as the trouble making Mr Toad, delighting in bounding around the stage and stirring up trouble with his obsession with speedy vehicles. It is obvious that he is enjoying every moment of it, and I can remember from when I saw the show live that the character of Mr Toad proved a huge hit with the children in the audience with his cheeky personality and silly catchphrase ‘Poop, poop’. Gary Wilmot played the strict military like Mr Badger with a wonderful stage presence that only comes with years of experience, bringing a level of authority over stubborn Ratty and innocent Moley.
Neil McDermott brings the character of the dastardly Chief Weasel to life brilliantly, with every action and look highlighting the wicked characters desire to rise from the woods to the grandeur of Toad Hall. Josh Gannon also impresses as Lesser Weasel, following behind his chief eagerly waiting to learn his wicked ways. Denise Welch brought lots of energy to the role of Mrs Otter, with her comedy moments proving delightful.
West End Favourites Simon Lipkin and Craig Mather play the roles of Ratty and Moley respectively and both are wonderful. Mather’s portrayal of the innocent Moley is utterly charming, with his sweater vest and glasses completing the look. It’s near impossible not to love this sweet character. His act two solo ‘A Place to Come Back To’ pulls at the heartstrings and makes you love mole even more. Lipkin’s Ratty is a wonderful contrast to Moley, full of confidence and quick comments. Lipkin’s comedic timing and use of sarcasm added new levels to the river dwelling Ratty, a character who wants nothing more than a simple life yet would do anything for his friends.
The sets are beautiful, at first appearing simplistic in their design but actually crammed full of little details, especially in the homes of Toad, Badger and Mole. The sight of the gentle willows billowing over the stage as Mole and Ratty mess about on the river in their boat is heart-warming and the scale of steam train and canal barge that fill the stage in the second act will capture your imagination, no matter what your age. The costumes are clever and charming, detailed enough to show each animal characteristic without being over the top. From the zoot suited weasels, spiked scout uniforms of the hedgehog family and the foxes dressed as fox hunters, it is all very well known, highlighting the fun and overall charm of the piece.
The music by Stiles and Drewe is as sweet as it is catchy, using a variety of different styles that suit the different characters. Once you’ve watched this show I am sure that you will end up with at least one of the songs stuck in your head, and chances are it will be ‘Wild Wooders’ or ‘We’re taking Over The Hall’, both wickedly catchy.
The Wind in the Willows may be cutesy and a little bit twee in places but it’s heartwarming and charming throughout, and you can’t help but smile when you watch it. It was perfect summer family entertainment during its west end run and I am sure that it has brought smiles to the faces of the families stuck at home on this wet and windy half term.