Bill Kenwright's national tour of
Whistle Down The Wind is billed as an
'extraordinary and uplifting tale about the transforming power of
love'. However despite a strong cast, this ill-conceived revival
fails to enliven its Edinburgh audience.
Based on Mary Hayley Bell's
allegorical 1959 novel of the same name, the show follows three
children who mistake an escaped murderer for Jesus Christ. The 1961
film starred the author's daughter Hayley Mills as young Kathy
alongside Alan Bates as the bearded man. Andrew Lloyd Webber and
Jim Steinman's 1996 musical adaptation transplants the action to
small town Louisiana with the eldest child renamed Swallow.
Leading the cast as 'The Man' is
Jonathan Ansell, perhaps best known as the high tenor in G4, a
vocal quartet from The X-Factor. His soaring
classical voice is a delight, if slightly out of place amongst a
company of musical theatre performers. Carly Bawden only a year out
of drama school expertly captures innocent and plucky Swallow. Sadly
Ansell and Bawden together face the thankless task of performing a
raft of songs which blend together in a seamless stream of
mediocrity. Except of course the catchy 'No Matter What' – made
famous by Boyzone.
In the dance-filled 'Cold', Edward (C
Gerod Harris), Sam (Ezra Tafari) and the ensemble pump much needed
energy into the show. So it seems nonsensical that for the rest of
the performance most of the cast rarely appear, and when they do they
are largely static. Tom de Keyser's nine-strong band provide a
strong accompaniment despite an over-reliance on synthesized
instrumentation. Paul Farnsworth's massive barn-themed design and
the striking lighting of Nick Richings create a dramatic setting
with huge – but ultimately unrealised – potential. Enthusiastic
local children from Edinburgh's Mary Erskine and Stewart's Melville
Junior School steal some of the limelight as the young disciples
intent on protecting their supposed messiah. Curiously they seem to
be miming for much of the show.
Such an interesting musical - full of
parallels with the bible and subtle themes of faith and belief -
should be compelling. This production is anything but.