“Although we’re armed with many prickles
They’re no match for large vehicles”
The Wind in the Willows took quite the critical battering when it opened at the Palladium last month and whilst it may not be the greatest show in the world, it does feel to have been a rather harsh treatment (I quite liked it for what it was). I’m not entirely sure what critics thought they were going to get from this revival of Kenneth Grahame’s classic story but it was clearly a darn shot edgier than anything Julian Fellowes and composing duo Stiles and Drewe were ever going to create.
Listening to the Original London Cast Recording which has now been released, you very much get a sense of the gently bucolic charm that they were aiming for and which, by and large, they achieve. Their strengths lie in the grand musicality of the ensemble numbers that pepper the score at its key moments. The cumulative choral power of ‘Spring’, the irrepressible energy of ‘We’re Taking Over The Hall’, the thrill of the fun-loving finale – this what they do so well.
What you don’t get though is any real sense of meaningful character insight for any of the leads, lyrically it tends towards the depth of a pond, which isn’t really effective when your running time exceeds two and a half hours. Simon Lipkin’s customary ebullience struggles to shine through on record as Ratty, Craig Mather’s Mole is sweet-voiced but inscrutable, Gary Wilmot is given too little to do as the grizzled Badger and Rufus Hound’s Toad comes across as too much of a caricature.
Somewhat ironically, the most captivating characters emerge as the Hedgehog Family who pretty much steal the show with a fleeting cameo. All credit to Jenna Boyd, James Gant, Lauren Sayers and Harvey Loakes to retain all the humour and emotion of this single number and maybe if the musical as a whole reflected more of this lightness of touch, it might have won over a few more reviewers? Either way, it’s an interesting musical to listen to.