(Clare Brennan’s article appeared in the Observer, 7/31.)

Watermill, Newbury
Tom Jackson Greaves thrillingly fuses movement with music in his revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Louisiana-set take on the classic 60s film

Many will remember Whistle Down the Wind from the 1961 film starring Hayley Mills as the young girl who mistakes Alan Bates’s injured criminal on the run for Jesus Christ. She hides him in the family barn, where she and her siblings and other children bring him gifts and ask him for Bible-style stories. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1996 musical relocates the action from rural Lancashire to steamy, late-50s Louisiana (the musical palette smudges bluegrass, rock, ballads, gospel; Stuart Morley’s arrangements). With lyrics from Jim Steinman, whose writing credits include https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2022/jul/31/whistle-down-the-wind-watermill-newbury-tom-jackson-greaves-review-outstanding-production-andrew-lloyd-webber-musicalLoaf’s Bat Out of Hell, the feel is less Sunday school, more gothic noir.

In Tom Jackson Greaves’s tightly honed production, the tonal contrasts are most stark (and moving) in the pre-interval crescendo scene: children gather in the barn around The Man (whom they believe is Jesus), singing a gentle, chiming lyric, “The demons are gone, The young are strong”. Meanwhile, circling adults in the world beyond menacingly pound a heavy-on-the-bass, revivalist number, “You’ve got to wrestle with the devil”. Elsewhere, though, the book (by Lloyd Webber with Patricia Knop and Gale Edwards) does not present oppositions so simplistically.

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