Whistle Down the Wind by Russell Labey & Richard Taylor. The Union Theatre, 229 UnionStreet, London SE1 to 21 December 2019. 4****. William Russell.

Whistle Down the Wind
Music and Lyrics by Richard Taylor
Book by Russell Labey & Richard Taylor
Based on the novel by Mary Hayley Bell and the screen play by Willis Hall & Keith Waterhouse
For the Bryan Forbes movie.
The Union Theatre, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR to 21 December 2019.
Tues-Sat 7.30 Mat Sat & Sun 2.30
Runs 2 hr one interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9876.
Review: William Russell 5 December.

First things first, this is not the Andrew Lloyd Webber version of the story which he relocated in the United States where the show originally opened. Like the Bryan Forbes movie the Labey and Taylor version takes place in a small village in Lancashire, not Kent as in the novel, and is about what happens when Cathy finds an escaped convict hiding in one of her father’s barns and mistakes him for Jesus, a secret she shares with her brot, get to know. Sasha Regan has recruited a good cast for the adults, found a charming Cathy in Sadie Levett making her professional debut, and enlisted the members of the Union Youth Theatre to play the village children. Designer Justin Williams has come up with a fine all purpose set which shows us the barn where the Man (Juan Miralles) is hiding as well as bits of the village. All dark wood and well lit it is offset beautifully by the Union’s bare brick walls. She has also placed her musicians at the back of the stage on the right hand side which allows the voices to rise above the sound of the music rather than be drowned by the echo chamber effect created when the musicians are situated under the staircase that rises up the stage left wall of the theatre.
The result is a charming evening which does not overdo the religious parallels as sometimes happens. The ending is slightly muffed. It looks as if the barn has been set on fire and the Man vanished, whereas in the film he actually surrenders to the police and, after throwing his gun out, raises his hands in a crucifixion gesture. The children are left believing He will come again.
Taylor’s music is pleasant if not memorable, serves its purpose well, and musical director Rosa Lennox has secured good choral singing from the cast old and young. It makes a nice end of year Festive season show and to their credit the youth theatre children seem blessedly natural, not something children attending drama school always manage to be. Most of them suffer from the Bonnie Langfords who, while she grew up well, was a cringe making albeit talented child performer.
Among the adults Eon McKenna stands out as the vicar, a red headed horror who clearly has sweaty palms and is far more concerned with the theft of lead from his church that the escaped convict or any danger the children may be in, and Stuart Simons as the widower Dad who worries about his children’s safety.
The performance of the evening is undeniably that of Sadie Levett as Cathy. She manages, in spite of being just a shade too old, to create a child brought up by a religious parent – her late mother – still young enough to be persuaded that the injured man in the barn really is Jesus returned. She holds the attention with ease, and gets strong support from tiny Tara Lucas as sister Nan and lanky George Hankers as their not all there brother Charles who creates some of the problems they face hiding the Man. Juan Miralles gets far too little to do as the Man until the end when he bursts into song leaving one wishing that composer Taylor had come up with something a lot earlier.
There are better musicals, and Lloyd Webber’s not too popular version had a better score, but this is good musical theatre which will give audiences a lot of pleasure.
It has been performed before at the Union and at the end of each performance of this production a collection is held for the Brain Tumour Charity in memory of Harry Wright who appeared in that 2015 production.
The Man: Juan Miralles.
Cathy: Sadie Levett.
Nan: Tara Lucas.
Charles: George Hankers.
Dad: Stuart Simons.
Auntie Dolly: Fiona Tong.
Miss Lodge: Louise Kempson.
Vicar: Eoin McKenna.
Raymond: Will Sutcliffe.
Raymond Snr: Conor O’Rourke.
Ruby: Olivia Wormald.
Jackie Greenwood: Laura Jeffries.
David: Adrian Mercer.
Jo: Rowan Moore;Teddy Bunker;Mariam Alaka.
Union Youth Theatre
Aleksander Matthew Culver; Nina Gleadhill; Ruby Kelly; Ava Jennings Grant; Alice Minshall; Poppy Vowls; Joseph Mark Ives Gomes; Matthew Mark; Ives Gomes; Eva Cropper; Eloise Shaw; Jocose Jackson; Teddy Bunker; Miriam Alake; Bib Reason; Nellie Regan.
Alexi Marie Clifton; Imogene Pointe; Rowan Moore; Anton Rogers; Shoo Zhen-Long; Ida Davidson; Adelaide Pointe; Maya Veronika Culver; Coco Bennett; Victoria Yawata Gilvickyte; Sofia Yawata Gilvickyte; Juliana McNeil-Rey; Hanna Maugham; Nicola Pietruszewska; Juno Bennett; Goldie Harries; Lina Ambalu-Weddell; Jessie England.

Director: Sasha Regan.
Musical Director: Rosa Lennox.
Set Designer: Justin Williams.
Costume Designer: Reuben Speed.
Lighting Designer: Hector Murray.
Production Photographs: Mark Senior.

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