Bill Kenwright presents
Whistle Down The Wind
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Jim Steinman
Based on the original novel by Mary Hayley Bell and the film produced by Richard Attenborough
Reviewed by Sue Marks at Milton Keynes Theatre on Monday 26th April 2010.
The first surprise was that the setting had changed from its original northern England to Louisiana. This does not detract from the storyline but does give it a distinctly different flavour. That said the major concept of the story i.e. the contrast between childhood innocence and adult cynicism, remains the same.
The foundations of musical theatre lie in its songs and this has some gems, from the eponymously named whistle down the wind through the heavy rock of tire tracks (not surprisingly reminiscent of Meat Loaf since Jim Steinman was heavily involved with “bat out of hell” and its sequel) to the haunting no matter what which was such a success for Boyzone. A particular favourite of mine is the bluesy song the tribe in which the man believed to be Jesus mixes together biblical patriarchs and ‘50s rock and film icons.
The songs can only be as good as their singers and what singers there are here! Headed by the wistful, yet pitch perfect voice of Carly Bawden who takes the part of Swallow. The counterpoint to this is the powerful voice of Jonathan Ansell who takes the other lead role as the man. A rockier sound was provided by Carl Stallwood who plays the bad boy Amos and also by the snake preacher, Leigh Jones, who gave a particularly charismatic performance, so zealous that it was bordering upon frightening. However, musical theatre is less about individuals and more about teamwork and this team is good, particularly within the acoustics of this purpose built theatre, when the cast sing together the sound surrounds you and appears to lift you out of your chair. Whilst the music could have been provided by a pre recorded soundtrack, the icing on the cake was supplied by the live orchestra and the synergy between musicians and players this produces.
The singing must of course be matched by the acting and I was bowled over by the acting abilities of Swallow, Brat and Poor Baby and mention must be made of the professionalism of the children at this venue who come from the local Myra Tiffin performing arts school. Jonathan Ansell demonstrated that not only is he one of the nations best loved voices as a founding member of G4 but he can act as well. These virtuoso performances were ably supported by the rest of the cast and I particularly enjoyed the quiet brooding menace of the sheriff played by Aaron Shirley.
The rear of the set consisted of a ploughed field in three dimensions set at an angle, which I must admit I thought was painted until the children walked on it. The wings were separated by towering columns of hay bales and scenes were changed by dropping and raising various pieces of scenery, enabling the shift from the barn via the house to the street, not forgetting the bar and the railway bridge. Following the fire scene the barn appears to be a burnt out shell and I’m still not sure how they did this, although it must involve removing part of the scenery and casting the rest in shadow. The lighting was quite subtle with the exception of the fire scene, when light, together with a little smoke, gave us a burning barn. I especially enjoyed the full moon which appeared several times, creating a certain ambiance. The props were limited but the motorcycle was extremely effective and the working headlight added a touch of realism.
Andrew Lloyd Webber is undoubtedly the master of musical theatre and this show is no exception, so if you want a show as good as anything in the West End without having to travel to London this is for you.
Whistle Down The Wind plays Milton Keynes Theatre from Monday 26th April to Saturday 1st May 2010. Milton Keynes Theatre Box Office 0844 871 7652 (bkg fee).
The tour then continues playing Grand Canal Theatre Dublin from 10th May to 22nd May 2010.
Reviewed by Sue Marks at Milton Keynes Theatre on Monday 26th April 2010 on behalf of Catherine Brian.