Interview – Simon Lipkin gets Ratty in The Wind in the Willows at the London Palladium

Simon Lipkin as Ratty in The Wind in the Willows Picture: Darren Bell

SIMON LIPKIN is playing the role of Ratty in the major new musical theatre adaptation of the family classic The Wind in the Willows which has its official opening at the London Palladium this week.

Based on Kenneth Grahame’s timeless novel, The Wind in the Willows has been adapted for the stage by the team of Julian Fellowes, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. The new musical received its world premiere at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth in October last year before heading for The Lowry in Salford and Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre.

Simon joins Rufus Hound, who reprises his performance as Mr Toad, alongside Neil McDermott as Chief Weasel, Denise Welch as Mrs Otter, Gary Wilmot as Badger and Craig Mather as Mole.

Simon has performed regularly in the West End and most recently starred in the UK Premiere of Honeymoon in Vegas at the London Palladium. His numerous other theatre credits include Avenue Q (Noël Coward), Rock of Ages (Shaftesbury/Garrick), I Can’t Sing! (London Palladium), The Lorax (Old Vic), Spamalot (UK and international tour), The Wedding Singer (UK tour), Footloose (UK tour) and Assassins (Menier Chocolate Factory).

Simon Lipkin will also plays Mr Poppy in the world premiere of Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s production of Nativity! The Musical, opening at the Rep on 20 October 2017 before touring.

Musical Theatre Review’s Polly Sisley caught up with Simon during rehearsals for the show.

How have rehearsals gone?

Brilliant! The Wind in the Willows is such a lovely story and this is such a lovely thing to be a part of. There was short run of the show before, so a few of us have come in fresh to the production for the Palladium run and we’ve been welcomed with loving arms.

It’s been amazing. The music is phenomenal; it’s got an amazing score from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. There are some lovely, joyous tunes. It’s proper musical theatre. There are so many shows out there now which try to be so different, but this is just the epitome of a family musical.

The Wind in The Willows will run at the London Palladium. You recently appeared in a UK premiere concert version of Honeymoon in Vegas, also at the venue. Have you got an affection for the theatre?

I love the Palladium, it’s one of my favourite theatres. There’s something about it, something in the walls there. It’s a proper home of theatre, of family entertainment. I already know it is perfect for this show.

Rufus Hound, Simon Lipkin and Craig Mather in rehearsals for The Wind in the Willows. Picture: Marc Brenner

Can you give us an insight as to what we can expect from The Wind in The Willows?

It’s a classic story. I think the beauty of it is that it’s still around today and people of all different ages have read it. Everyone seems to have a connection to the story. People are familiar with the characters: Toad, Ratty, Mole, Badger. Julian Fellowes has written an amazing, funny script. His credentials don’t really need explaining; he’s Julian Fellowes! Rachel Kavanaugh, our director, has taken it all under her wing and made it into such a heartwarming show. It’s funny and heartfelt. It’s just a beautiful story.

You’ve mentioned the show’s book, score, venue etc, but in your opinion, what’s the best part of the show?

Ah, that’s a really hard thing to pick. I think the joy of musicals is when everything comes together. You can’t just have good songs, or a good script, or good choreography. It all needs to work together. I think that’s what we’re trying to do, trying to make the choreography complement the music, the music complement the story, and so on. It’s a cop out answer, but that’s just how I feel.

You’re Ratty in this production. Do you enjoy playing him?

Yes, I do. I mean, I’m 6’2 so I’m quite a large rat! He’s such a lovely character, they all are. Ratty seems to know everyone, he’s everyone’s mate. He can also, quite literally, be Ratty at times too. Ratty takes Mole on this journey through this wonderful world where they meet all these characters. They meet Toad, who is a slightly selfish, flamboyant, crazy character. Rufus Hound is absolutely brilliant at playing him. Badger is a father figure to the other characters, he’s very authoritative.  Everyone plays to their part and has their character set out for them. Sometimes when you do a show, you have to figure out how to make this work, but this show is so well-written you just seem to know exactly who you are and exactly what you have to do.

Peter McKintosh designed the set and costumes. What are they like, considering you’re all playing different animals?

Well, I’m not sure how much I can give away. We’re not going down the route of dressing up as literal animals. It’s very much like we are the animals –  we do have tails and ears, but they all fit into clothing rather than being a full-scale costume as such. He’s done an incredible job to make the costumes represent every animal. The set is so wonderful, it’s so colourful. It’s going to look pretty gorgeous.

Picture: Darren Bell

Especially at the Palladium… 

Exactly. It’s going to look lovely. There’s a few little surprises in there too, but you’ll just have to come and see it to find out.

Jamie Hendry, the producer of the show, unveiled a ticketing initiative to allow children to see the show for free at 80 performances over the summer. What are your thoughts on that?

I think it’s amazing. Weirdly, one of the things I saw when I was very young was The Wind in the Willows and I have really fond memories of it. I think getting not only kids into the theatre, but also families, is a great thing. Times are hard at the moment, people don’t have money to just throw around, so being able to take your family to the theatre is a great experience – my family did it for me and it’s what got me into it.

I think this production is going to be really special because it’s at the Palladium. All of the West End theatres are amazing, but I think the Palladium holds a special place for everyone. When kids do go to the theatre, it’s usually to see pantomimes, which is nice, but to actually see something like this and not having to always worry about the price of a ticket is a brilliant thing.

Do you think ticket initiatives like this should be more common within the theatrical world?

I think accessibility to the theatre is really important. Obviously there any many ways to make that accessibility happen, but I believe our producer’s initiative is a brilliant one. To be able to give people who wouldn’t necessarily be able to come the chance to see something at the theatre is fantastic.

* The Wind in the Willows is booking until 9 September.

Tickets for The Wind in the Willows at the London Palladium are available HERE.

Readers may also be interested in:

Original cast recording of The Wind in the Willows soon to be released – News

The Wind in the Willows press launch – London Palladium – News

The Wind in the Willows – Theatre Royal, Plymouth – News

 

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