Simon Lipkin is a stalwart of London’s musical theatre scene. From performing with puppets in Avenue Q, I Can’t Sing and The Lorax to pulling off a mullet in Rock Of Ages and getting serious in Assassins, he’s been ever present in the West End for the last decade. This summer he’s at the London Palladium, playing Ratty in The Wind In The Willows.
Songwriters Stiles and Drewe and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes have concocted this new version of the classic children’s tale. They’re a writing team who have struck gold before, working together on both current West End hit Half A Sixpence and Mary Poppins.
While Simon Lipkin sees this as a Wind In The Willows for the modern day, it still follows the adventures of the eccentric Mr Toad and his riverbank chums. Comedian and actor Rufus Hound plays the amphibious adrenaline junkie, leading a cast that also includes Denise Welch and musical theatre royalty Gary Wilmot.
Simon Lipkin tells us more about the family-friendly show and offers some great advice for future performers:
For anyone who doesn’t know the show, how would you describe The Wind In The Willows?
I’d say it’s a magical tale about a mismatched bunch of riverbankers who go on one heck of an adventure. It’s a classic story that’s been given a complete reimagining for 2017.
Why did you want to appear in it?
There was so much that made me want to be a part of this show. I’ve loved the story ever since I was a kid. In fact, seeing a production of The Wind In The Willows was one of my earliest memories of going to the theatre. And I’ve always wanted to work with Stiles and Drewe. I think their shows are brilliant, so I was completely over the moon when they asked me to do it!
How would you describe your character?
Ratty is everyone’s mate. People come to him for advice or help or just to have a laugh, but he has a “ratty” side to him as well… usually when it comes to Toad! He loves him, but Toad winds him up like there’s no tomorrow! Ratty is such good fun to play. Usually he’s played a bit posh but I’ve decided to take the slightly more rough-and-ready approach. That’s what happens when you’re from Essex.
Is there an audience that would particularly enjoy this show?
I think it appeals to everyone. The book has been read by people for so many years and is still being read now. If you know it from your past, then it’s like seeing something you love come to life. But I think what’s more exciting is that there’ll be people watching and discovering this story for the first time.
What do you think this new version brings to a story that’s been adapted many times, and in many ways, before?
Well, I think there are lots of ways to present a story like this. But this is a reimaging of it for the modern day. The music is beautiful and exciting, the script is fantastic and the team have put together an exciting, new, fresh interpretation of it!
How does it feel to perform at a venue as special as the London Palladium?
It’s brilliant! There are so many amazing theatres in the West End, but the Palladium I think will always have something really special about it. Plus it’s had a refurb backstage and the dressing rooms have lovely en suites.
What was your first experience of theatre?
I was so lucky; my parents used to take me to the theatre a lot. Seeing The Wind In The Willows at the National Theatre was one of my earliest memories! I also remember seeing Oliver! at the Palladium. I wanted to be Fagin… I was 10… I’ve always liked the character parts.
Why is live performance so special?
Well, I think you can’t beat it. I’m a movie junkie, so it’s not like I’m a theatre purist. But seeing something live – with no cameras or chances to cut or edit – is pretty magical. And some of the things that happen on stage during the show are definitely things that you’ll want to see live!
Apart from the Palladium, what’s your favourite London theatre?
The Noel Coward Theatre will always be a special one for me as it’s where we opened Avenue Q. I have lots of happy memories there!
What one piece of advice would you give aspiring performers?
Never give up and never think that there is something that you can’t do. It’s tough, and there are lots of people who want to do it, but you are one of those people and have as much chance as anyone else.
Be humble and be nice to people. Help them. Competition is healthy but support and teamwork is way more important. When we were little we used to play and make-believe for hours with no inhibition… now is no different, never be shy or conform… be you! Have the best time being happy and playing!
What’s your top tip for a trip to the theatre?
Go with people that make you happy! It should be a fun experience. Sit back, relax and get lost in your imagination… nowadays I think we need it.