I remember The Wind in the Willows fondly from my childhood days. Frankly I'm surprised that it's taken so long for somebody to create a musical adaptation of the story for the stage, but here we are with a show written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, with music and lyrics from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
Based on the novel of the same name (written by Kenneth Grahame), the musical debuted earlier this month in Plymouth and is now touring the UK. Telling the story of the adventurous young Mole (Fra Fee) who fast becomes great friends with the protective Mrs Otter (Sophia Nomvete), boat-loving Ratty (Thomas Howes) and outlandish, speed-obsessed Toad (Rufus Hound), the tale starts off charming enough but soon descends into darkness and chaos.
Toad is an animal who cannot get enough, despite being the richest of all the animals he lives around. Once obsessed with boats before moving onto carriages, he soon sets his sights on an even faster mode of transportation - a motorcar. Spending money on some of the finest cars he can find, Toad thinks he's a heaven-born driver, despite crashing every vehicle under his control within minutes of getting behind the wheel. An intervention comes from his friends Mole and Ratty who are worried his passions will lead to death and destruction, with the pair setting out into the Wild Wood to find Badger - a wise old animal who has secluded himself from the rest of society in the hopes of finding some peace and quiet.
Meanwhile, Mrs Otter's overprotective nature of her daughter proves to be a necessity when she is lured into the woods by the mischievous and villainous Chief Weasel (Neil McDermott). There she is captured by the rest of the weasels, nasty foxes and stouts, with the gang hoping to fatten her up before making her the main course at one of their future meals. That's not Chief Weasel's only plan however, with the wood dweller also setting his sights on Toad's Toad Hall and riches…
Granted the perfect opportunity to strike when Toad 'borrows' someone else's motorcar to take for a spin, a jury made up entirely of weasels, foxes and stouts - the Wild Wooders - finds Toad guilty of theft before the court sentences him to 20 years behind bars. Chief Weasel lords over the newly named Weasel Hall before a daring prison break from Toad and a siege of the Halls takes place. It's a great adventure and a real throwback to the days in which the story was told over and over again to the young.
Incredible acting performances come from the entire cast, with special mentions having to go to Hound for his comedic timing and brilliance, along with McDermott for creating his own spin on the baddie you can't help but love. Fee, Howes and Nomvette all provide stellar performances in their roles and help envelop the entire audience into the world of the animals. Their vocal abilities are also showcased through a variety of catchy and infectious tunes that lend themselves perfectly to the tale, with writing and lyrics at a terrific standard.
Every single member of the cast including all of the company performers who sometimes aren't given their dues really get into their roles as animals, with gorgeous movements and choreography ensuring each actor looks and behaves like their animal counterpart.
Honestly there's not a fault to be found in the show, at least from my perspective. The set design was beautiful, the lighting was tremendous and the sound technicians should be very proud of the brilliant job they did. It's got to be hard bringing a sense of realism to a world inhabited entirely by animals, but that's what the team did here perfectly.
So congratulations to everybody involved in this production, and a personal thank you. The Wind in the Willows played a huge part of my childhood but is something that has in recent years fallen out of memory. Now, thanks to this marvellous stage show, I can't wait to revisit the book and various other adaptations. Poop poop!
The Wind in the Willows runs at The Lowry Theatre until Sunday November 6.