How you respond to finding a scruffy man in your family barn will depend on whether you’re an adult or a child. The adult who is tired of the world, living with experiences that have hardened their emotions sees a degenerate, a convict, a murderer. The child, who lives with hope, optimism and faith, well they of course see no other than Jesus Christ himself.
These contrasting outlooks set up the main themes of Whistle Down The Wind where three young children stumble across – who they believe to be – Jesus Christ in their barn and serve to feed him, protect him and follow his wisdom. At the same time, the adults of the 1950s working class town search for a suspected convict living under their roofs, as they continuously question the morals amongst the town’s children, fearing they are doomed to grow up as failures.
The premise of this play is of course marvellous and has seen success as a 1961 film which was based on a 1959 novel. However, this production with music and lyrics by Richard Taylor does not live up to the billing as the staccato songs feel forced and unnerving rather than enjoyable and uplifting. By the end there’s a sense of joy that it’s over.
It should be noted, none of this is a taint on the cast who all perform their roles excellently. The range of eldest daughter Cathy (Sadie Levett) is impressive as she switches from dialogue to vocals with absolute ease. Similarly, Cathy’s younger sister, Nan (Tara Lucas) portrays a variety of expressions and emotions that compel the audience into the severity of their secret. Alongside the two sisters is brother Charles (George Hankers) at times foul mouthed but filled with a good heart and although he question the reality of Jesus more than his siblings, by the end he truly believes this scruffy man is acting in their best interest.
Supporting these young and promising actors are a number of more experienced performers including Stuart Simons, Fiona Tong and Louise Kempson who play the children’s Father, Auntie/Guardian and at times drunk choir teacher Miss Lodge respectively. A special mention is also reserved for Eoin McKenna who plays the Vicar with such a red face of anger and disappointment that the children of the town have stolen his guttering bringing a real sense of comedy to the evening.
The actors perform in a tight space utilised to its fullest effect under the design of Justin William and lighting from Hector Murray which serves to increase the quality of the play.
Overall, the production which is staged in a beautifully created theatre space in the Union Theatre, Southwark has the potential to create something truly magical as they have assembled a cast of performers and creatives that have clearly poured a marvellous amount of effort into the creation. However, no matter how talented the cast may be, when the source material is difficult to appreciate, the prospect of a fine evening is instantly limited.
Then again, maybe this is just a moody adult’s perspective, and a child’s hopeful outlook would frame the situation in an entirely different way.
Whistle Down The Wind is playing the Union Theatre until 21 December. For more information and tickets, visit the Union Theatre website.