Whistle Down The Wind

Apr 11 2019 | By More

★★★☆☆    Solid

Edinburgh Academy: Wed 10 Sat 13 April 2019
Review by Thom Dibdin

Forth Children’s Theatre put in a solid production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman’s musical version of Whistle Down the Wind, at the Edinburgh Academy until Saturday.

Set in Louisiana during the 1950s, rather than the Lancashire of the original film and children’s book, this features the Boyzone hit No Matter What and uses Webber’s original score, without the amendments Bill Kenwright made for his touring productions.

Morgan Morris, Emilie Jardine, Jojo Brassington and Cameron Seath. Pic: Mark Gorman

Setting this in the Southern states of America, with a fundamentalist Christian background, makes real sense of the basic plot which is just the same as in Mary Hayley Bell’s original story.

A family of children, almost-16 year-old Swallow and her younger sister Brat and younger brother Poor Baby, discover an escaped convict – “The Man” – in their father’s barn. When they ask who he is, they mistake his “Jesus Christ!” exclamation at being discovered for an answer.

While the townsfolk, including their recently widowed father, hunt for the escaped murderer, Swallow and her siblings with a group of other kids who are all born and bred on fundamentalist attitudes to life after death and the resurrection, set about hiding, feeding and nursing their new-found Saviour back to health.

Director Ben King makes Swallow the focus of the production, with her awakening as an adolescent equated to her naive belief in The Man. Such a focus is no bad thing, as Emilie Jardine is an understated delight in the role, while Will Rowse makes The Man more of a figure, than a character.

the highlights of the production

Jardine carries that naivety from her belief that The Man can bring their mother back to life, to her obliviousness to the obvious feelings which her childhood friend Amos has towards her.

Moray McConnachie and Emilie Jardine. Pic: Mark Gorman

Indeed, the scenes between Swallow and Amos are the highlights of the production. Their A Kiss Is A Terrible Thing to Waste is its most successful and satisfying moment with Jardine’s wonderfully clear voice matched by Moray McConnachie as Amos.

McConnachie brings a real theatricality to the stage – you always know exactly what Amos is up to, whether it is riding his motorbike with his want-away girlfriend Candy, trying to express his feelings to Swallow, or when he appears at the barn door and discovers Swallow with The Man.

Olivia Steele’s bold, brassy portrayal of Candy is quite in keeping with King’s scheme. Although there are times when her power and demeanour is more of someone who had already escaped from the small town, than one who is still a part of it. But Candy and Amos’s duet on Tire Tracks and Broken Hearts is well delivered.

By contrast, the huge presence which Eilidh West brings to the stage as the Snake Preacher is quite appropriate. She merges with the ensemble when needed but, like her snakes, can hold it and the audience in her gaze.

Eilidh West and adult chorus. Pic: Mark Gorman

The issue of The Man’s potential to be a giver of life, and his ultimate failure to do so, is highlighted by a clutch of kittens which the children save from drowning and give to his care. Jojo Brassington as Brat and Morgan Morris as Poor Baby make sure that this is never mawkish and both provide strong support to Jardine.

Cameron Seath as their father, Boone, gives a decent showing of a man not at ease with his growing daughter. Although he, like all the grownup roles here, feels somewhat sidelined in a production which focusses on the ensemble to fill out the background to what Swallow is experiencing.

open and abstract

It is possibly a product of a staging which, while bringing a barn and clapperboard church to mind, is very open and abstract, relying on lighting and smoke to provide atmosphere, rather than attempting to create detailed settings.

Will Rowse and the children’s chorus. Pic Mark Gorman

Indeed after the opening, hymn-like Keys to the Vaults of Heaven has established the religious nature of the community, the rear curtain is swept back for the overture to reveal the band, under the precise guidance of MD Fraser Jamieson. A hymn to the music of the show, then, not its meaning.

And that meaning is missed, to be honest. While there are really great moments – the child chorus of When Children Rule the World takes the whole up a level – the underlying themes of the piece as a commentary on belief, blame and a society which is unable to come to terms with death, become lost.

That said, this is a show where you will most likely go home humming the tunes. If not the title number then No Matter What, which insinuates itself through the whole show and is buoyed by a company in which every performer on stage delivers their all.

Running time: Two hours 10 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Academy, 42 Henderson Row, EH3 5BL.
Wednesday 10 – Saturday 13 April 2019
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinee, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details:  Book here.

Forth Children’s Theatre website: https://forthchildrenstheatre.wordpress.com/
Facebook: @forthchildrenstheatre
Twitter: @FCTCompany.

Adult chorus, Pic Mark Gorman


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