This brand new family musical from Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) and award-winning songwriting duo George Stiles and Anthony Drew (Mary Poppins), couldn’t be more British, and is a clear smash hit, leaving the theatre with children dancing around the auditorium and crowding up to see the pit band.
The songs are the star of the show, with high-energy and catchy tunes in every genre from Gilbert & Sullivan to Gangsta Rap. The band is enormous and every song richly orchestrated, with the choral numbers blasting the roof off. Rufus Hound may be worth the price of admission alone for his hilariously cartoonish and explosive Mr Toad, the original upper class twit. Toad Hall also features the most eye-popping sets, while the hedgehogs, weasels, and rabbits (alongside Ratty, Moley and Badger) are dressed in simple textured suits with animalistic accoutrements.
Kenneth Grahame’s original book is very episodic, and this stage adaptation even more so, which some may find lacks a certain drive or throughline. Furthermore, it is Brexit entertainment through and through, with a British team adapting a quintessentially British story, replete with cross-dressing and carol-singing. Toad is so charming we can forgive the aristocracy for anything, even multiple crimes. The male characters have drive and ambition, while the female characters are housewives and ditsy mothers. It’s all part-and-parcel of the original, and this is the safe and traditional adaptation that many fans of the original will be hoping for.
It’s a bold move for a brand new (family-oriented) musical to open cold into the West End, let alone the London Palladium, but this extraordinarily entertaining new production plays really big, filling the theatre with music, laughter, and quintessential Britishness.