Bell Kenwright’s production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ at The Theatre Royal is simultaneously uplifting and disturbing. This story of a deeply religious rural community disrupted by the presence of a runaway criminal leaves its audience with more questions than answers.
The inability for the children’s innocence to be shattered and the hopeful strains of their simple songs is uplifting. But the repetition of the adult’s mechanical warning – “you’ve got to wrestle with the devil”, and the use of a fire connected with the idea of judgement, provides a slightly disturbing undercurrent.
It was the children who really aided the play’s success however. As a trio Swallow, Brat and Poor Baby (Carly Bawden, Alicia Kemp and Toby Smith respectively) were particularly believable as a family. The trio provided some poignant moments in songs such as ‘I Never Get What I Pray For’ where Swallow’s grief at losing her mother, mingles with sibling rivalry (‘I want a brother that don’t fart’) and childish dreams (‘I wanna move like Elvis in every way’). Accompanied by twenty three local children from AGF Performing Arts, the children brought youthful fun and excitement to the stage.
In his portrayal of ‘the man’, Jonathan Ansell’s body language was extremely powerful, creeping restlessly around the edges of scenes when other characters take centre stage. Nevertheless, Ansell’s stage presence is at its best when he commands it with his singing. His final duet with Swallow in the number ‘Nature of the Beast’ was a spectacular climax to the tensions between the two characters.
Overall, this was certainly a thought provoking and challenging musical. The cast were superb, they sang with a breathtaking conviction and there wasn’t a dull moment.