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Review: Whistle Down The Wind

Whistle Down The Wind
Whistle Down The Wind

Margate's Winter Gardens

Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber would have been impressed - but almost certainly not surprised.

After all, he approved Margate Operatic Society as one of the few high-calibre musical theatre groups entrusted and licensed to perform Whistle Down the Wind.

His representative was in the audience at the Winter Gardens for the Wednesday performance and declared it “fantastic.”

It certainly was. This was West End standard in East Kent.

In one of its most challenging productions for years - and possibly its best - MOS lived up to its reputation as one of Britain’s finest musical theatre ensembles.

Whistle Down the Wind is perhaps better known to UK audiences as a film, based on a novel by Mary Hayley Bell, in a Northern England setting and starring a young Hayley Mills who is finding her way as a teenager.

A story of an escaped convict whose flowing locks and first utterance “Jesus Christ!” lead the innocent youngsters to worship him as Jesus.

The musical has been relocated to Louisiana in the USA’s Deep South and somehow benefits from that setting.

MOS coped easily with the challenge of American accents, and the impressive set well evoked the southern states.

It is a story that contrasts the prejudice of adults with the innocence of the young, and the struggle of a 15-year-old girl to come to terms with those difficult hormone-stirring teenage years.

She worships - loves perhaps - the criminal who looks like the pictures of Jesus she has seen in books and heard about in church in this God-fearing community. The girl Swallow and the other children vow to protect the stranger in the barn. But of course it ends in tragedy and the dashing of dreams and hopes. Yet “Jesus” is moved by perhaps his first experience of being loved.

Whistle Down The Wind
Whistle Down The Wind

Lloyd Webber’s score combines his hallmark numbers and love songs with rock music and country and western with lyrics by rock ‘n' roll songwiter Jim Steinman. A motorbike also takes centre stage.

All the performers were outstanding, with special praise for Neil Patterson as “Jesus” and Georgia Rowland-Elliot as Swallow.

A vibrant chorus was complemented by a delightful group of talented young dancers, with excellent performances by the child actors. Choreography by Donna Clements was high-octane and creative, with great musical drive from the orchestra under Janice Regan’s baton. The direction by Stuart Clements, who also took the part of Boone, widower and Swallow’s father, was as sure-footed, imaginative and inventive as ever.

No wonder Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group has huge respect for MOS. The business can be confident that if it gives MOS the go-ahead to perform one of its musicals, it is in safe hands. Indeed, as the Lord’s right hand man suggested, the Thanet company has been known to do it better than the West End.

Trevor Sturgess

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