Watermill Theatre, Newbury – until 10 September 2022
The Watermill’s bespoke setting and compact stage wouldn’t be my first choice of venue for a revival production of the musical Whistle Down the Wind based on the book by Mary Hayley Bell, adapted to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Jim Steinman. However, the results are extremely impressive.
The storyline touches upon grief, racism, loneliness, small-town attitudes from 1959 Louisiana and religious practising cults in the form of the Snake Preacher (Elliot Mackenzie).
Swallow (Lydia White) is an older teenager who’s struggling with grief for her recently deceased mother, attempting to reassure and protect her younger siblings while trying to understand her father’s problems. Her faith is the one stable and constant thing in her life and it’s quite easy to see why the “man” she discovers in the family barn soon becomes a victim of mistaken identity.
Robert Tripolino’s performance as the injured “man” an escaped murderer. Mistaken for Jesus by Swallow and the children he starts quietly with an air of uncertainty about him. Yet, as he becomes comfortable and finds his voice the sinister background stories being discussed by the adults in the village soon become reality. Tripolino’s voice is outstanding and amazes the auditorium when he sings his first number.
Although on the surface the storyline appears far-fetched and improbable, when you look at the events taking place through the eyes of a grieving daughter and the younger cast it’s a befitting story that wild imaginations would create and encourage each other to believe in within their peer groups.
The entire performance is set in and around the backdrop of the barn set in farmland where Swallow and her siblings live. Doubling up as the house of god, the local bar and a railway tunnel. Simon Kenny uses all the space available to its best capacity.
Many of the cast double up as the musicians from a range of guitars, piano, clarinets and piccolo. The limited space in the theatre doesn’t allow room for an orchestra pit as well. Musical director George Francis certainly overcomes that challenge.
The smaller scale setting certainly doesn’t leave the audience with a smaller scaled production. I am sure the choreography at times took precision and planning to allow each of the dancers the required space they needed without falling over each other. Director and choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves has developed a memorable production.
For more information on this production which runs until September 10th and future shows coming to The Watermill please check out the link below.