Ahead of the Edinburgh run of explosive new British musical, In the Willows, we ask Olivier award-winning actor, pantomime dame and star of BBC’s The Story of Tracey Beaker, Clive Rowe about his role as ‘Mr Badger’ in this ‘effortlessly modern’ retelling of Kenneth-Graham’s classic children’s story, Wind in the Willows.
In the new British Musical In The Willows you play the stern but kindly teacher Mr Badger - keeping an eye on Toad, Rattie, Mole and the others. Did you ever have a teacher who inspired you when you were growing up?
My home economics teacher Katherine Scholes - she wrote my first CV for me - she was one of their first people that said I should act. I kept in touch and even invited her to join me when I received my MBE.
With a rapped-through score and beats from hip-hop composer Keiran Merrick will we see any break-dancing from you in the musical?
The only backflipping I’ll be doing is vocal - I’ll be neither hipping nor hopping in the show - but Pippa [Cleary - the award-winning other half of the composing team, who wrote the smash hit Adrian Mole musical] has written me some beautiful melodies so that’s where I get to show off.
You’ve just finished a star turn in Chichester’s Me and My Girl, reprised your Olivier-award winning performance in Guys And Dolls at The Royal Albert Hall, and after Willows you’ll head straight into Blues In The Night at the Kiln playing opposite Sharon D Clarke. What made you say yes to this brand new, unknown show?
When I got the script - it felt new. I didn’t really know the original story - all I remembered was Toad, Rattie, something with a car and Badger - but this version, this musical - it’s so effortlessly modern - so relatable, and so brilliantly accessible to kids - without talking down to them. Once I got into the workshop and realised there was a deaf character and integrated British Sign Language - it was beautiful. I’m a big supporter of new musicals generally but I just thought it was amazing - it is amazing - this show really is being made for everyone.
And what’s the best bit?
That’s hard, there are so many… when the Weasels sing ‘Animal’ and Toad’s big number ‘Easy Life’ - so catchy, so fun and so funny. Badger’s ballad ‘Oh Child’ is so beautiful - it’s a great example of how generational the show is. This soulful, almost Gospel number, is just right for Badger and it’s right for my generation, like the rap is right for the younger characters. The music always captures who it’s coming from - it’s never music for music’s sake. And best of all - I don’t think the music is like any other musical I’ve heard.
In The Willows is at the Festival Theatre, Wed 27 to Sat 30 March 2019.