Review Round-Ups

Did the critics get ratty over The Wind in the Willows?

The musical adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s novels has arrived in the West End

Holly Williams, WhatsOnStage


"What an odious toad of Toad Hall this is!.. we get a thoroughly unrepentant, thoughtless, entitled toff, like Jeremy Clarkson crossed with a harrumphing landowner from, well, Downton Abbey. Rufus Hound delivers the part with the suitably inflated bumptiousness, but unlike the eventually conciliatory amphibian of Kenneth Grahame's original, this Toad proudly learns precisely nothing."

"Putting, ahem, the weasely class politics of it all aside, this lavish family show manages to be both anodyne and rather jolly. There's a sprigged charm in George Stiles and Anthony Drewe's plinking score, parping and trilling and warbling about springtime and swallows… "The chorus is sparkling throughout under Rachel Kavanaugh's sure direction, with Aletta Collins' choreography capturing some animal essence in angular leaps or sweet scurryings."

"There's a nice central relationship between Mole – a winningly nerdy Craig Mather – and Ratty, who's played with alternately daft and deadpan wit by Simon Lipkin, far and away the best thing in the show (and the only really funny one)."

"Peter McKintosh's design somehow manages to be both tasteful and toothsomely garish. Concentric circles of pale wood frame the stage, delicate willows sway above, and the animals' underground burrows are snug and cosily decorated as Hobbit holes."

"The colourful animal cutesiness may win over kids, but this Wind in the Willows ultimately feels overly glossy, obviously more West End than woodland and waterway. It's tweeness is too tame, lacking bite."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph


"Stubbornness is the hallmark of the impatient, novelty-chasing Mr Toad. And hasty obstinacy is the stand-out characteristic of this lavish musical adaptation…"

"…this show is burdened by an insufferable twee-ness. 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."

"The comic ebullience and brio of a boggle-eyed, green-moustachioed Rufus Hound as Toad saves it from being a full-on car-crash; whenever he’s about, the mood brightens, and he gets a terrific send-off over the stalls in a jet-pack (there are no complaints, really, about Peter McKintosh’s picturesque set-design, while Rachel Kavanaugh’s direction does her proud too)."

"Full marks as well to Simon Lipkin for his drolly down-to-earth Rat and to Craig Mather for his Harry Potter-ish Mole… Yet neither the capable principals nor the pretty costumes nor the spirited choreography can hide the fact that this is a trial, a sentence, an incarceration from which one wishes one could escape dressed as a washer-woman. "Poop-poop!" Toad cries. Too right."

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"It is difficult… to find any strong personal vision behind this new musical. Fellowes seeks to banish the book’s air of bachelor clubbiness by giving us a Mrs Otter with an errant daughter called Portia."

"Stiles and Drewe also make a gesture to modern gender politics in a song, "To Be a Woman", where the cross-dressed Toad announces: "I’m taking pride in my feminine side." That is one of many good numbers, but the songs embrace such a variety of styles that the score lacks a definable character."

"Rachel Kavanaugh’s production itself moves pretty fast and contains some good performances. A green-haired Rufus Hound captures the bumptious likability of Mr Toad, Gary Wilmot lends Badger a ramrod-backed military air as well as a cautious mix of belt and braces, and Neil McDermott invests the Chief Weasel with a spivvy, Arthur Daley-style raffishness."

"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."

Ann Treneman, The Times


"This is the latest endeavour from the winning team of Julian Fellowes (script), George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (lyrics). They have collaborated, to great success, on Mary Poppins and Half a Sixpence. But this offering, as pleasant as it is, is not in the same league."

"They cannot blame time, for this version has been percolating since it was seen in Plymouth last autumn. And there are lush orchestrations — but no songs that are going to stay with you. There are good performances but none, even Rufus Hound, frantically hamming it up as a greener-than-green Toad, are outstanding."

"It’s all a bit middling. I could actually see the boxes that have been ticked… But my attention wandered and that elusive ingredient, magic, was missing. The wild wood has never felt so tame. Rachel Kavanaugh, the director, has created something that is too safe and never feels as if it is pushing the boundaries. The choreography, by Aletta Collins, often feels muted and doesn’t really come together until the encore which is a bit late."

"This tale is all about speed and yet this underpowered musical just never really takes off. Poop, poop? More like pfffft, pfffft."

Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard


"A family musical, just in time for the school holidays? It sounds promising, but at every turn this lavish take on Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 novel chooses sweetness over mischief. Its air of wholesome safety is so pervasive that even a posse of breakdancing squirrels manages to seem inoffensive."

"…here the big budget isn’t matched by a compelling central idea. It’s a meandering journey rather than a genuinely engaging one, and the wide variety of musical idioms… means it never asserts a particular voice or vision."

"The star of the show is, predictably, Rufus Hound’s Mr Toad, a wildly energetic green-haired buffoon. If his passion for hurtling towards disaster suggests an untapped gift for political leadership, his repeated cry of ‘Poop! Poop!’ risks being the stuff of a puckish theatre critic’s punchline. But Hound’s gusto is impressive."

"Rachel Kavanaugh’s production, though picturesque and deftly choreographed, is slow to exert any grip. It’s bland and more than a little twee."

Tim Bano, The Stage


"It’s impressive, in a way, to see a version of The Wind in the Willows so utterly devoid of nature… here, all signs of natural life are missing. It’s all clean lines, block colours, gaudy costumes."

"Only one of the characters, Toad, feels in any way like an actual character, with the rest coming across as pretty flat; the dialogue is entirely functional."

"George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s songs are pleasant and hummable enough… But they tend to interrupt rather than enrich the story. Jaunty and plentiful they may be, but they’re also perfunctory, and the lyrics become quickly tedious. Lines twist themselves into knots in order to find a rhyme that’s visible a mile off."

"Peter McKintosh’s set has flashes of inspiration… But, overall, it’s too crisp, too clinical… Ikea does the great outdoors."

"..the whole production feels a world away from anything remotely pastoral and, as a consequence, it’s all rather bland."

The Wind in the Willows runs at the London Palladium until 9 September.