REVIEW: The Wind in the Willows, The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, November 10-20.

Rufus Hound as Mr Toad in The Wind in the Willows

Rufus Hound as Mr Toad in The Wind in the Willows

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You’ve got just a couple of days left to get your tickets for the Southampton run of the new musical version of The Wind in the Willows.

Do so now – and then when the show opens at the London Palladium next summer, you’ll smugly be able to say “Ah yes, well, I was in on the start of that one.”

And what a start it has been.

You’d expect something special when Downton Abbey creator and Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes crosses paths with Olivier Award-winning composer-and-lyricist team George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Director Rachel Kavanaugh and a superb production team then join forces with a superlative cast to do the rest.

The result is an absolute joy, a brand-new musical packed with colour and fun, huge on energy and massive on heart as it piles up all those childhood memories and creates something fresh and exciting.

The costumes are superb; so too are the songs; but above all it’s the sense of a wonderfully-talented cast you’ll walk away with – a cast which has turned massive potential into theatrical gold.

There is beauty in the detail (Toad’s prison number, for instance), but there is beauty too in the broad sweep of it all as an oh-so-familiar tale is reimagined and romps along with endless style and glorious imagination.

Rufus Hound oozes arrogance as Toad, but you can’t help but love him. Fra Fee as Mole, Downton Abbey’s Thomas Howes as Ratty and Sophia Nomvete as Mrs Otter are terrific; EastEnders bad-boy and Shrek star Neil McDermott is the perfect scene-stealer as Chief Weasel; but it seems wrong to name names in a show which works so well because they work so well together.

It would be lovely if the Mayflower could shove aside this year’s panto and just let this run and run. As fine as it is in November, in December it really would be the perfect Christmas treat.

Phil Hewitt

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