Theatre review - Wind in the Willows, The Lowry

PUBLISHED: 17:06 31 October 2016

David Birrel as Badger Thomas Howes as Ratty and Fra Fee as Mole in The Wind in the Willows Photo by Marc Brenner -® Jamie Hendry Productions

David Birrel as Badger Thomas Howes as Ratty and Fra Fee as Mole in The Wind in the Willows Photo by Marc Brenner -® Jamie Hendry Productions

Archant

The new musical Wind in the Willows, starring Rufus Hound, is a glorious romp through this much-loved children’s tale of the riverbank, says Kate Houghton.

Neil McDermott and the company of The Wind in the Willows Photo by Marc Brenner -® Jamie Hendry ProductionsNeil McDermott and the company of The Wind in the Willows Photo by Marc Brenner -® Jamie Hendry Productions

From the opening number, a rolling celebration of spring on the riverbank, the new musical Wind in the Willows holds its audience spellbound by songs, music and humour.

Following true to the book’s storyline, we meet Mole, fed up of spring cleaning, as he braves the outside and discovers a whole new world of friendship and adventure.

Rufus Hound as Mr Toad in The Wind in the Willows Photo by Marc Brenner -® Jamie Hendry ProductionsRufus Hound as Mr Toad in The Wind in the Willows Photo by Marc Brenner -® Jamie Hendry Productions

Kenneth Grahame and Julian Fellowes are a match made in heaven, the latter taking the former’s paean to the English countryside and to friendship and presenting it to an audience of young and old in such a way to charm both young and old – and with an obvious love for the original. With humour set to appeal to adult and to children, with characters pitched at just the right point – from larger than life Toad to shy and excitable Mole, the story rollocks along, liberally peppered with marvellous song and dance routines that delight with every note.

Fra Fee’s mole is sweet and funny; Thomas Howes makes a marvellous Rat and David Birrell’s Badger is suitably grumpy and gruff. All have the most tremendous singing talent, with Fra Fee positively skin-tingling at times.

Rufus Hound delivers just the kind of Toad you want and expect – the most perfect piece of casting one can imagine for this role! He’s bumptious and big-headed, hilariously un-self-aware and deliciously selfish. Hound’s ability to combine physical slapstick with vocal expression – and sing – makes every appearance by the green horror filled with fun.

Oh, and we mustn’t forget Chief Weasel, a stage village if ever there was one. Played almost, but not quite, to a pantomime level of evilness by Neil McDermott, he delivers the exact level of bad guy you want for what is essentially a children’s play, although not every adult was accompanied by children on the night I attended, by far!

All in all this is a glorious execution of a wonderful story, a positively magical show that I could quite easily see again before it moves on…sadly in just a few days. Fingers crossed it returns!

Wind in the Willows plays at The Lowry, Salford, until Sunday 6 November

www.thelowry.com/event/the-wind-in-the-willows2

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