WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND
book by Russell Labey and Richard Taylor music & lyrics by Richard Taylor.
Union Theatre 204 Union Street SE1 0LX To 21 February 2015.
Tue–Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat & Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 2 hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9876.
Review: William Russell 30 January.
Praise the Lord but not the musical.
Well-staged by director Sasha Regan, with a splendid performance from Grace Osborn as Cathy, the little girl who discovers an escaped convict in her father’s barn and decides he is Jesus, this musical version of Mary Hayley Bell’s celebrated novel is pretty hard going.
Musically it is uninteresting; dramatically it does not work. Let’s concentrate on the good things. The direction is polished, the performances by a very young cast pretending to be younger children are all good.
The adults fare less well, but they are presented as a pretty bigoted lot, country folk who go to church but do not practise what they preach, although the Vicar (Bryan Hodgson, oozing hypocrisy) does. None of them get much chance to shine anyway.
The trouble is the story, set in late 1950s rural Lancashire, has dated badly. The children are gullible. Today’s mobile phone, You Tube addicts would have sussed out instantly that the man in the barn was not Jesus.
The other problem is the score offers nobody any chance to shine, although there are some passable choral numbers and the score gets its just deserts from a rather good four-piece band.
It is Christmas, the children, when not scrounging food for the man in the barn (Callum Mcardle making the best of a thankless role and not even given a decent ballad to sing) are rehearsing a nativity play in reach-me-down home-made costumes while their elders run round shouting about an escaped murderer, shouts which fall on deaf ears as far as their offspring are concerned, and being ever so narrow-minded.
The book made a memorable 1961 film directed by Brian Forbes for Hayley Mills as Cathy and Alan Bates as the man on the run. The Larbey Taylor musical appeared in 1989 and in 1996 Andrew Lloyd Webber produced his version, relocated to Louisiana and Cathy renamed Swallow. It ran for two years in the West End although it did not repeat its success in America. This is the first professional London production of the Taylor-Larbey show.
The Man: Callum Mcardle.
Cathy: Grace Osborn.
Charles: Alex James Ellison.
Dad: Chris Coleman.
Nan: Imelda Warren-Green.
Auntie: Kathryn Hamilton-Hall.
Miss Lodge: Danielle Morris.
Policeman/Parent: Romero Clark.
Vicar/Child: Bryan Hodgson.
Adult/Sergeant: Oliver Stanley.
Adult: Sebastian Thomas.
Raymond: Joshua Lewindon.
Child: Harry Wright.
David Edwards: Edward Crann.
Child: Sarah Kate Howarth.
Child: Ana Richardson.
Child: Molly Steere.
Child/Adult: Donna Marsh.
Director: Sasha Regan.
Designer: Nik Corrall.
Lighting: Tim Deling.
Musical Director: David Griffiths.