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.