Book: Mary Hayley Bell
Composer and Lyricist: Richard Taylor
Adaptor: Russell Labey
Director: Jeremy James Taylor
Choreographer: Kay Shepherd
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree
One of the National Youth Music Theatre’s summer productions this year is Whistle Down the Wind based on the book by Mary Hayley Bell, mother of the 1961 film’s child star Hayley Mills. It was not until the early 1990s that it was first turned into a musical for children to perform. Its story line is so strong that it was no surprise that, when it was brought to his attention, the much glamourised Lloyd Webber version appeared a few years later.
Although the original was set in rural Sussex, the story is all the more powerful for being translocated to a remote Lancashire settlement in the 1950s. Jason Denvir has designed a set consisting of a dilapidated barn which can be turned inside out, a central Celtic cross which can be adapted into a pulpit, and a church door. A kitchen cabinet and a breakfast table suffice for the interior of the children’s house.
The three main characters, the motherless Cathy, Nan and Charlie discover a runaway convict hiding in the barn and the rest of the play revolves around a case of serious misidentification. Jemimah Taylor who plays Cathy has a heavy responsibility which she carries well, being on stage almost throughout. She is ably supported by Phoebe Roberts as Nan and Zak Baker who plays Charlie. All are considerably older than the parts they play but are convincing as being about twelve, ten and eight.
Richard Taylor’s music supports rather than drives the action, keeping it flowing smoothly along, sometimes with a single, quietly held note.
The cast of nearly eighty, of whom forty have identifiable parts, range in age from eleven to twenty one, although the vast majority are in their teens. The voices are strong and musical, as to be expected but it is still difficult to hear words. Amplification increases the volume of sound but does nothing to improve clarity. Rapid delivery in a rustic accent make it easy to miss the finer points of the script, which is a pity.
The National Youth Music Theatre, founded in 1976 in conjunction with the recently established charity, Creative Youth have done sterling work in enabling young, sometimes very young people, to experience theatre at a professional level.