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Whistle Down The Wind
Member Name: Critchyboy
Whistle Down The Wind
Date: 02/04/02, updated on 02/04/02 (270 review reads)
Advantages: Good set., Best songs heard again and again...
Disadvantages: Tries to tell too many stories.
Cue a frantic call to the Box Office for a ticket for Mum – who landed the plum job of taxi driver for the evening and also a much better seat than those of us who booked early – and a dash to Manchester for curtain-up on Whistle Down the Wind, visiting Manchester on its tour for a couple of days.
The front of house announcer had clearly had his own share of troubles, washed down with a bottle of vodka, when he announced that to stop annoying other people during the show sweet wrappers should be rustled now – pregnant pause – and that seeing as the show is set in 1950 and the mobile phone had not been invented, please make sure they are all switched off. It drew a sympathetic round of applause though…
The Musical is based on ‘that’ film. You know the one. Oh you do. The one with the same name. The one with Hayley Mills and Alan Bates. Which in turn is based on the book of the same name by Mary Hayley Bell. Three Lancastrian children discover a stranger in their barn and make a simple mistake…or do they?
The musical uproots the story from its original location to the Deep South Bible Belt of America in the 1950’s era of racial and indeed spiritual tension.
The show begins with the funeral of the Mother of three children named Swallow, Brat and Poor Baby. It is up to the Father, Boone, to raise his children alone, struggling to make ends meet and ensure all have a memorable Christmas.
The news on the radio breaks the story of an escaped murderer who is lurking around the area and the village is put on high alert.
eanwhile in their barn, the children discover a stranger hiding in the hay. When asked who he is he answers, “Jesus Christ.” The children after years of Sunday School teaching and with a childlike faith combined with the feeling that a miracle is long overdue take him at his word. He has wounds on his hands and feet – surely it must be Jesus come back again. The children, led by Swallow, make a pledge to look after him and protect him in secret and not to tell the adults what they are up to.
But promises are easily broken and soon all the children in the village know and congregate in the barn for some unorthodox teaching from this strangers’ wisdom. Again the three children, plus the rest of the kids make a pledge to protect him, whilst the adults in the village plot to hunt out the killer on the run in their midst. Swallow, on the other hand, begins to fall in love with the man, and you know things are going to turn a little pear shaped soon.
Sure enough, the cover is blown and events race at break neck speed towards the story’s conclusion. I’d hate to spoil it for you. Go and see it instead.
I’d heard a lot about this show when it was in London. I’d heard about how the stage split in half during some of the songs and wondered how on earth this was going to be achieved on stage.
Well, the set is adequate. Wobbly and a little Dr. Who like in places, but it sure is effective. Scenery comes down from the rafters and on from the sides to create a barn or a street scene or a pub. The lighting is also used to good effect, mist noticeably at the climax to Act One when The Man surrounded by kids in the barn are plunged into darkness and silhouetted against the adults lit up as they sing their part.
One scene, however, did bring a snort of laughter from the audience. It involved a train, on a bridge, and was quite like someone riding a bicycle with a torch
strapped to their head! Quite amusing. If it hadn’t been for the deafening sound effects it would really have been laughable!
These were OK. Mum enjoyed them more. She said they were “from her era” – whichever decade that was! She said she was tapping her feet and bopping away. There was quite a mix of styles, from Rock and Roll, through Bluesey-Jazzey to the ballads we associate with Lord Lloyd-Webber. The only problem is that the second half repeats a lot of the tunes form the first – more so than in any other musical I’ve seen.
Here is my pick of the tunes –
Whistle Down The Wind: Always good to have a decent title song and it is. Reprised in a number of places throughout the score but haunting with its optimism against adversity.
Tire Tracks: A rocky number sung by two of the teens wanting to get away from it all. Couldn’t hear much of the words as the music was so loud, but definitely had my foot tapping.
No Matter What: The one made famous by Boyzone is actually pretty damn good when sung by the three lead children. Sung by the kids to pledge their support of The Man and by the adults, in counterpoint, to describe their hunt for the killer on the loose.
Nature of the Beast: The man tells Swallow the truth but she does not want to hear it. Great song.
Tim Rogers (The Man): From Australia, great voice, good actor. The role he played though here consisted mostly of stropping round the stage. Mum appreciated his muscles though…
Katie Rowley-Jones (Swallow): Making her professional stage debut and is simply excellent as the confused teenager fighting her feelings for this stranger. Excellent voice – wow!
And that’s all for that bit! These were the best.
I enjoyed the show but feel somewhat let down by it and here’s why.
r>Firstly, in transplanting the story to the Deep South of America in 1950 there’s got to be some degree of comment on the racial tensions of the time. It tries desperately to make this valuable comment, but only manages to tell the token black characters a) its either time you were off this street or b) there’s a bus out of town at 10.30 and you’d better be on it. It really clouds the plot of the story. And that is the key to what makes this musical so confusing. There are simply too many other stories going on. A random preacher turns up in town to stir up trouble and to sing a song. A black girl falls for a white boy and they agree to leave town, but he loves Swallow. He tells Swallow confuses her and confuses us, before the other girl goes ballistic at him proving that she has some decency over him. And as this is told in song and action , it is sometimes so hard to keep up with what is actually going on with all these various storylines that you forget the most important one. Namely – is this stranger in the barn actually Jesus Christ?
Secondly, while there are talented people playing the roles of the three lead kids the rest of the children seem to mime very badly to a pre-recorded voice track. They get all the mouth shapes huge and expressive as stage trained kids do, but some of them miss their cue by half a beat.
Thirdly, some of it seems so random. I guess this is linked in to point one, but I feel it needs to be made again. There is such a good central premise that gets overwhelmed by sub-plots that are really superfluous to the main plot. The subtlety of the comparison between childlike faith and adult cynicism is lost in a melee of other, all-be-it important, social comments and plot lines all vying for attention.
That’s why I felt let down I think. It wanted to comment on too much when all it needed to do was to tell the story of a group of children who thought their prayers had been answered and
a miracle had arrived.
***TOUR 2002 DETAILS***
1st – 13th April: Mayflower Theatre, Southampton. 023 8071 1811.
19th April – 4th May: Hippodrome, Bristol. 0117 929 9444.
15th – 25th May: Theatre Royal, Nottingham. 0115 989 5555.
10th June – 22nd June: Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent. 01782 213 800.
24th June – 6th July: New Victoria Theatre, Woking. 01483 761 144.
16th – 28th September: Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes. 01908 606 090.
Tickets range from £10.00 - £27.50. Check with theatre for prices.
Thanks for reading,