Review by David Munro
AS ONE has come to expect from Bill Kenwright, his touring version
of Whistle Down The Wind is well directed, immaculately
staged and generally good to look at.
It is not his fault that Whistle Down The Wind is not
one of Andrews Lloyd Webbers better shows; in fact, it could
be classed as his worst to date.
After a disastrous opening in the States, he and Jim Steinman
apparently totally revised it. Having not seen the original version,
I cannot comment on whether or not it was worse than the final
This certainly has none of the charm and innocence of the original
book and film, nor, if my recollection serves me, has it retained
anything other than the basic premise that the children believe
the escaped criminal they discover and help is Jesus Christ.
Transposing the plot to the Deep South exaggerates the religious
overtones of the plot and raises the old stereotyped mantra that
excessive fervency in religion leads to bigotry.
In addition, by making Swallow a teen-age girl, it gives rise
to sexual undertones in her relationship with the Man.
In fact, the literal wonderment that children have in regard
to religion, which was the mainspring of the original book (and,
I suspect, the original version) is now displaced by a girls
adolescent obsession with religion, whose motives are questionable,
and who appears, at the end, to being on her way to develop into
a frustrated religious spinster.
Yet, despite this, the gloss on the original plot could have
worked had the authors the courage of their convictions.
As it stands, the organised religion of the adults is stressed
with well-sung choral numbers, which contrast effectively with
the naiveté of the childrens chorus.
The solos given to Swallow and her siblings swing between innocence
and sophistication. Only in the numbers given to the Man does
the dichotomy of the situation have dramatic impact, where he
contrasts the facts of life with his wish to have the salvation
offered by the childrens belief in him.
His scenes and duets with Swallow appear to be aimed to underline
the change in her, from religious devotion to sexual awakening.
The authors seem to wish to have the best of all worlds, innocence
betrayed by reality, religious bigotry and commercialism and a
girls sexual awakening grafted on to a plot whose mainstay
was the ignorance of innocence.
Lloyd Webbers music is, in many places, reminiscent of
his earlier scores, The Swallow/Man duets in particular recall
the Phantom /Christine ones underscoring the relationship between
The childrens chorus has a flavour of Joseph and some of
the choral writing could have been discards from the Requiem.
Interestingly, a lot of the second act, which was dramatically
more interesting than the rather turgid first, seem to presage
the great score to me at any rate of The Beautiful
Perhaps one wouldnt have noticed all this had the lyrics
been more impressive. They were, however, banal and repetitive.
Songs appeared in their own right, then grafted on to later ones,
and reprised, it seemed, forever. All this went to prove was that
good lyrics bear repetition, bad ones dont.
This, I felt, was rather hard on those who had to sing them.
Certainly, Glenn Carter, as the Man, came up trumps. He has a
good voice, which he uses well. His diction was excellent, too
good perhaps, considering what he had to sing, and, dramatically,
he was as convincing as he could be.
Rosie Jenkins, as Swallow, I was less happy about., Her scenes
with Ashley Lloyd, her young brother, and Carly Thoms, her sister,
were charming and believable.
Those with the Man, I felt, were a bit forced and, in a key scene
where she has to try and seduce a young local, Amos (Garrie Harvey),
so he would take her to fetch a package required by the Man, she
did not really convince me that she found betraying her principles
was hard - merely, she seemed to be playing hard to get.
Her singing, too, lacked the innocence the part should have demanded,
and one felt, at times, she was auditioning for Pop Idol, rather
than portraying a part through song.
The rest of the cast seemed to have been selected for their voices
rather than their acting ability, which didnt really matter
as not a lot of acting was required of them.
Richard Swerrun did what he could with the thankless task of
portraying the childrens father, whose barn is destroyed
at the end of the evening, and Paul Hutchinson was convincing
as the town creep, who blows the gaff on Swallow and her secret.
Garrie Harvey, as Amos, whose affections are torn between Swallow
and the local bar waitress, Candy (Debbie Corley) is a name to
watch. He has a good presence and a pleasant voice. Although he
was made up to look like a refugee from Grease, he nonetheless
managed to overcome this handicap and gave a touching and charming
As I have already indicated, the production details were good,
scenery came and went without a hitch, one scene merged into another
and all in all, it was visually excellent.
Bill Kenwright's direction did what it could to disguise the
inconsistencies inherent in the libretto, and Henry Metcalfs
choreography moved the religious scenes with fervour of the feet,
if not the heart.
The best dance was in a saloon scene, in the first act, performed
by Scott Murtagh and Leroy Ricardo Jones, whose footwork was astonishing.
I do not think, at the final reckoning, Whistle Down The Wind
will achieve entry in the list of Lloyd Webbers memorable
scores, and anyone who thinks it would be is, I suggest, three
sheets in the wind!
Whistle Down The Wind, based on a novel By Mary Hayley Bell,
and a screenplay by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall.
Music, Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics, Jim Steinman; Director, Bill
Kenwright; Designer, Paul Farnsworth; Lighting, Nick Richings;
Sound, Ben Harrison; Choreographer, Henry Metcalfe; Musical Director,
CAST: Glenn Carter; Rosie Jemkins; Garrie Harvey; David Robbins;
Steve Fortune; Siobhan Morgan; Craig Armstrong; Michelle MacAvoy;
David Lyndon; Martin Neely; Oliver Marshall; Georgie Fellows;
Paul Hutchinson; Graeme Kinniburgh; Polli Redston; Debbie Korley;
Michaelia Baptiste; Scott Murtagh; Leroy Ricardo Jones; Richard
Swerrun; Carly Thoms; Ashley Lloyd.
Produced by Bill Kenwrighrt inassociation with The Theatre Royal
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
Box Office 0870 060 1827.