From left to right, Fra Fee, Simon Lee, Neill McDermott, Anthony Drewe, Sophia Nomvete and Thomas Howes
This is one family production you should not miss!
There was an excited buzz as the Quays Theatre Bar at the Lowry filled up for the press launch of the new musical adaption of Kenneth Grahame’s tale of the Wind in the Willows.
The launch was held in the Compass room bedecked as a picnic area with wicker hampers and balloons.
Anthony Drewe, Simon Lee and Jamie Hendry from the team behind the musical were joined by 4 members of the cast to showcase songs from the new show and to answer questions put to them by Jo Lloyd of Smooth Radio about the creative process behind the adaptation.
Jamie Hendry the Producer commissioned Sir Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey Fame) to write a script for the musical. This was then passed to the lyricist Anthony Drewe composer George Stiles to add songs to the scenes.
This is the third successful collaboration for the Fellowes/Stiles/Drewe ‘dream team’.
Anthony explained that everyone involved in the writing of the show had a shared cultural heritage in that they were all brought up on classical British literature and so that made it easier to understand the references. He also jokingly said that his degree in zoology helped him get into the characters’ minds.
What struck Anthony about this iconic childhood tale were the themes of hope and friendship and this imbued his lyrics.
The process of creating the Wind in the Willows had to be fitted in around other projects such as Downton Abbey and Mary Poppins and Half a Sixpence.
As the book is now out of copyright they had great freedom to adapt the storyline and allowed them to characterise without any constrictions. There are some changes from the original book in that they have adapted it to make it relevant to the modern day; e.g. they have added some female characters and embellished the existing female characters.
The main characters are animals so the theatre goer is already transported beyond reality into fantasy and that gives a wide palette for the costume designer Peter Mackintosh to portray the creatures without resorting to furry costumes. Peter has created wonderfully witty costume design based on animals but with a humanistic slant, e.g migrating swallows are provided with air crew trolley bags and swallow-tailed coats.
The show is suitable for all generations of the family and each will find something in it that resonates with them.
Mole is our way into the story who sees the world with the eyes of an ingenue – the whole world is new to him This rôle is taken by Fra Fee, whose credits include Courfeyrac in the recent film Les Miserables. He has been given a wonderful song ‘A Place to Come Back To’, which, this reviewer is convinced, will become a modern musical theatre classic full of quiet emotion and intensity.
Ratty is played by Thomas Howes (late of Downton Abbey) in his first musical since drama school. The thing that struck him most about Ratty’s character when preparing for the rôle was the bravery, the warmth and sweet heartedness, coupled with a stiff upper lip and his affection for Mole.
The Chief Weasel is expertly played by Neil McDermott (late of Eastenders) who portrays the loutish lairy scoundrel very well.
We were also treated to a song with very complex lyrics handled with humour & aplomb by one of the characters, Mrs Otter, played by Sophia Nomvete who has an impressive back catalogue of theatre work.
Jamie Hendry explained the decision behind launching the show in Salford…..it was simply the welcome from, and enthusiasm for the project, shown by the Lowry team led by Steve Kauffman which made him decide that this was the perfect city and venue.
In order to include as many hopefuls as possible, the team conducted a talent search to find characters and held open auditions in both in London and Manchester which resulted in Holly Willock obtaining the rôle of Portia.
Mention must be made of the wonderful accompaniment by Simon Lee the Musical Supervisor, who holds a soft spot for this area, being an alumnus of the RNCM and who is also a world famous conductor.
Finally just a word of thanks to the volunteers and staff at the Lowry who worked very very hard to make it such a pleasant afternoon for all us visitors.
For more information and to book