Whistle Down the Wind
Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
Wednesday 6th November 2013
Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1996 musical is based on the 1961 film of the same name starring Hayley Mills, with the action moved from Lancashire to a small town in Louisiana. After failing to even reach it's Broadway opening in the US, a UK concept album from the show saw Boyzone cover a version of the beautiful "No Matter What" and subsequently achieve a platinum single that was number 1 in 18 countries. Reworked, the show subsequently played in the West End for over 1000 performances.
Springers' production is adorned by a children's chorus of Offspringers, their youth section, who perform with an overall sense of confidence and energy. Their singing voices are clear and melodic, despite occasional lapses of diction in the speaking scenes, and their handling of the classic "When Children Rule the World" is charming.
The lead in this show is a child role, played by 13 year old Offspringer Katy Forkings in an excellent performance of maturity and consistency. Her pretty voice is strong throughout and her performance is assured and engaging. Swallow is a role usually played by an actress with a couple more years under their acting belt, but Katy creates a believable and absorbing character full of innocence and conviction. Her on-stage siblings, Matthew Scott as Poor Baby and Charlotte Golden as Brat, are also played with appeal.
The Man in Swallow's barn is given an earnest and impassioned characterisation by Springers' stalwart Ian Pavelin. Relaxed and reliable, his resonant voice handles the challengingly high songs through this show smoothly and his performance is emotionally convincing. The duets "Try Not To Be Afraid" at the opening of Act 2 and "Nature Of The Beast" towards the end, both sung opposite Swallow, are emotional and dramatic highlights performed with understanding and flair on both sides.
Among the rest of the cast there is a wide variety of success with the tricky American Deep South accents, and an occasional habit of slipping out of them altogether during the songs, but the singing is always melodic and particularly strong in the ensemble numbers. There is a delightful cameo from Ross Rogers as Ed who sings the upbeat "Cold" with bags of charisma and an excellent singing voice. Aaron Crowe relishes his bad boy image as Amos, but shines particularly in the more emotional second act matching up with equal strength to the two leads in "A Kiss is a Terrible Thing to Waste". His "Tire Tracks" duet with an assured Bethan Anderson as Candy is also enjoyable, with them both handling the large motorcycle set piece with ease.
The set is thoughtfully constructed to make the best use of the limited Cramphorn space, with the open wooden flats being hung from runners to aid swift and regular scene changes. The lighting design is atmospheric, if a little patchy, and the timing of the cues is somewhat sporadic with lines being performed in the dark on a number of occasions. The setting of this show does not require much glamour from the costumes, but all choices fitted the requirements well and helped to create the atmosphere of the period - the blood make-up for The Man looked particularly effective.
After teaming up for a couple of productions in a row, Springers and Offspringers go their separate ways for their next ventures. Offspringers take on The Wizard of Oz in March and Springers have their "Baggy Trousers" at the ready to welcome you to the "House of Fun" that is their June production - Our House.