'Whistle Down the Wind' review or 'Kittens, Christ and Cathy'

'Whistle Down the Wind'
Union Theatre, 30th January 2015
Written for Time Out 

Richard Attenborough made a film version of Mary Hayley Bell’s novel ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ in 1961. It was perfectly respectable. Andrew Lloyd Webber had a bash at turning it in into a musical in 1996. It did okay. Now Russell Labey and Richard Taylor’s older musical adaptation is finally receiving its professional London debut. It, too, is a decent attempt, and funny, but this saccharine show is not for the cynics among us. 

It is 1950 and we are in a small town in Lancashire. Strong-willed Cathy (Grace Osborn) and her pals have rescued some kittens. When the kids hide the kittens in a barn, they discover a mysterious man hiding there. The kids become convinced this man is Jesus Christ and resolve to protect him. Unfortunately, the hard-hearted adults have other ideas. 

Sasha Regan’s production is set against the fractured framework of a barn and takes a while to get going. Some of the opening numbers, which include a song sung to a kitten and a prayer from Cathy, feel limp. But there is some bite to Labey’s book and, as the townsfolk grow increasingly anxious (they’re worried about an escaped convict), the songs get sassier. ‘When You’re Looking for a Murderer’ is a fierce staccato number, brittle and highly energetic. 

Osborn, as believer Cathy, has a pure choral voice which suits her part well and Callum McCardle’s Man is fittingly enigmatic, as moody as he is kind. The large cast pull together well, David Griffiths’s band provides solid support and the ensemble numbers are rich in harmony. But there’s something cloyingly earnest about this show and, as  a bunch of ‘kids’ sing sweetly to a glowing crucifix, it feels a bit too much like Sunday school for this critic.


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